Thursday, 14 March 2013

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season 3

3.01 Anne

A fairly average episode. Buffy’s departure from Sunnydale has left her friends in an unpleasant and dangerous situation. The scenes where the Slayerettes start school without Buffy oddly lacks spark and it does seem a little selfish on Buffy’s part to leave. She is working as a waitress where she re-meets Lily (from Lie To Me) who is quite simply one of the best characters onscreen here. Her life is clearly sad and difficult, relying on the love of her boyfriend and the need to belong. However, there is a sinister plot at play as Ken, the creepy guy who hands out pamphlets is far more than what he seems. As this plot is brought to the fore and a sinister labour factory is defeated, there are some nice ideas on display here. They are all very dark, though.  The best scene of the episode, suggesting some of the emotional maturity of the previous season, is Joyce blaming Giles for her daughter’s departure. It’s heartbreaking and incredibly well-written. In fact, all of this episode is overshadowed by Buffy’s decision to leave home, her sadness at this and her inability to decide who she is. The problem with this is that her life actually seems comparatively easier than those who live on the streets as the montage of the homeless suggests. Overall, an episode where every member of the cast is depressed and seems to be missing a spark and the audience is unfortunately left feeling the same way. A fairly disappointing start to the season.
VERDICT: 5.5/10

3.02 Dead Man's Party

Probably one of my least favourite Buffy episodes so far. It’s depressing and unpleasant, seeing the effect that Buffy’s departure had on her friends. There is a lack of understanding for all parties involved and again it just feels like this episode is going through the motions and again lacks that elusive spark that made this series so enjoyable even when it was sad (looking at you Becoming – Part 2). There are several moments through this episode where I considered giving up and the fight scene that the episode seems to be working up to is weak. The killing of Pat seems a bit off seeing this was the woman who had helped Joyce, but yeah… not a fun episode. Very, very weak, but I suppose it had to happen for the characters. I just wish it had been more enjoyable, exciting and fresh. Instead it feels stale and unpleasant.

3.03 Faith, Hope & Trick
A return to form of sorts after the disappointments of this season. The introduction of Faith and the return of Buffy to school adds some much needed spark, especially the new ‘zesty’ slayer. She somehow manages to be frustrating, charming and emotionally unstable all at the same time but I do think that it was wrong of Buffy’s allies to associate themselves so strongly with Faith, when their very own Slayer has only just come back after a pretty horrid time of it. In fact, the events of Becoming provide some of the strongest material in this episode, particularly as Scott gives Buffy the ring which is incredibly moving for such a simple scene. Another strong scene is when she finally tells Willow and Giles what happened between her and Angel on that fateful day. I love that Giles deliberately invented a fictional spell because he knew that more must have happened with Buffy. What is odd about the series at the moment is that the usually prominent Slayorettes (Willow, Xander, Cordelia and Oz) are largely in the background at the moment. As this is their final year of high school, I sincerely hope that they start driving plots again as opposed to feeling like parts of the scenery. The ending featuring the return of Angel and the overall quality of this episode (particularly Faith who was just what this series needed after they’ve all been getting quite depressed recently) bodes well for the rest of the season. While it is not enough to completely restore one’s faith (geddit?) in the series, it is certainly a marked increase in enjoyability.

VERDICT: 7.5/10
3.04 Beauty And The Beasts
This season continues to grow in quality, but this is an immensely dark episode. It is a very thinly veiled mediation on abusive relationships, making it a difficult and uncompromising watch. It’s good that the supporting characters are being allowed to shine, particularly Oz in this episode, but it lacks the depth of the previous season. The return of a broken Angel is a neat twist and again provides the episode with its strongest moments (particularly when Angel hugs Buffy, clearly broken and it becomes clear that it is almost impossible to imagine what he must have gone through), although I do think that this isn’t going to bode well for Buffy and Scott’s relationship which is a shame. Overall, the closeness to real life makes it fairly difficult to watch, but it’s not alone in that regard. Four episodes in and this season is lacking in any charm, fun or wit, making it a chore to watch. Where was the Buffy that was cool and fun?


3.05 Homecoming
To answer my previous review, here it is! This is immensely entertaining as Buffy and Cordy fight for the title of Homecoming Queen and Mr Trick has teamed up with a mysterious new party to kill Buffy in the ingeniously named Slayfest ’98 (that would have been cool as the title). It is good to see Buffy return to the fact that she is a school girl who just happens to fight monsters. This is pointed out by Scott as he dumps her (which feels very sudden. It looks like it’s played for laughs, but it doesn’t work, especially after the pain of Angel) when he states that she used to be ‘a force of nature’ but now she’s just gone a bit flat. This seems almost to be viewers of the series and Buffy counteracts that with the promise that she’s getting better. The show is promising us that it will get better and then pulls off a blockbuster episode to prove it. The actual moment where Cordy and Buffy get trapped in the forest with traps and killers is immensely cool. They are forced to work together but also clearly dislike one another and there are some genuinely funny moments (Buffy telling Cordelia to go back to the spatula, the Spiky-Headed guy running into a boarded up window) before a rocket launcher blows up the cabin as Buffy and Cordelia are forced to the ground. This is how you do cool, Buffy. The final revelation of who exactly is Homecoming Queen is a genius mis-step as there is a tie but it isn’t who you would expect. Also, the introduction of the mayor who has been ominously mentioned throughout and is obsessed with cleaning creates a new Big Bad to make life hell for the Slayorettes, suggesting good omens for the rest of the season. A genuinely hilarious, amusing and epic story that brings the cool back into Buffy. More like this please.
VERDICT: 9.5/10

3.06 Band Candy
Another enjoyable episode featuring the adults regressing to teenage-like states. What is perhaps most astonishing about this episode is how convincing Giles is. His voice changes and there’s something but disturbing and funny while he’s like this. Also, seeing him kiss Joyce feels very odd but this episode revels in seeing characters that we know and love doing things that we wouldn’t usually associate them doing. Also, seeing him kiss Joyce feels very odd but this episode revels in seeing characters that we know and love doing things that we wouldn’t usually associate them doing. Ethan’s return in this episode is clever and I love the explanation; that they were doing it as a distraction. This is quite different than the Master, Spike or Angelus who wouldn’t have really cared who got killed in the meantime. The mayor continues to be a little creepy and Mr Trick is a very charming villain. One question though, where does Faith go when she’s not in these episodes? She probably had no idea about what had happened because the owner wouldn’t have been given the candy. Interesting… Overall, an enjoyable and clever little episode that doesn’t try to be more than what it is; a truly amusing comedy with some nasty elements (the whole baby stealing thing with the giant snake… Creepy).
VERDICT: 9.5/10

3.07 Revelations

Another fairly average episode. What is odd at the moment is that, for the first few episodes of this season, most of the intense drama has come from characters who are friends very much disliking one another. Anne saw Joyce blaming Giles, Dead Man’s Party had everyone hating Buffy, Beauty And The Beasts had everyone mistrusting Oz, Homecoming had the rivalry and dislike between the Slayer and Cordelia while this episode has everyone disliking Buffy again. It actually makes this opening quite unpleasant and at odds with the previous two seasons which relied on the strength that they managed to draw from one another during difficult times. At the moment, it feels like they have been forced together. Xander is suffering the most because of this and at various times, he varies from unlikeable and annoying to plain hateful (particularly during the Demon Intervention, where he brings up Jenny Calendar which is just low). I do hope they start liking one another again… Anyway, this episode focuses on the arrival of a new Watcher for Faith. She’s so strict and uptight that it really isn’t a surprise that she’s a baddy. Also, the final scene where Buffy tries to comfort Faith comes across as strange because Faith hadn’t really known her Watcher for all that long and they aren’t really seen to be bonding (although, the training could have been this opportunity). On the point of the major plot, the re-introduction of Angel to the main characters is good, because it was beginning to feel a bit tired with him being her spirit guide (as the yoga scene early in this episode suggests). Anyway, a disappointing episode characterisation-wise. Again, there seems to be a lack of understanding between the Slayorettes which makes for depressing and challenging viewing (the fight between Buffy and Cordelia is amazing, though) and not in a good way.
VERDICT: 6.5/10

3.08 Lover's Walk

One of the best episodes for a while, despite the fact that it continues the disliking one another of the main characters. This time, however, it’s done in a way that is dramatic and moving. Spike returns and Xander and Willow’s affair is revealed. The return of Spike is not as fun as you’d expect because he’s perpetually drunk, depressed and moping over the separation with Drusilla. It’s quite interesting seeing an enjoyable character take a dark turn and the way he departs at the end of the episode is genius, as Spike seems to realise that the search for the potion is pointless, which the viewer knew all along. The plot surrounding Willow and Xander is sad in the extreme as Xander’s life is put in danger and they bond strongly. The love between these two (although up until the end of season 2 it was very one-sided) has been one of the major running arcs so to see it be realised in such a painful and selfish (looking at you Xander. Willow was finally getting over him and started dating Oz when he realised he loved her, ignoring Cordy’s feelings and acting on his own needs) way is difficult to see, but in a satisfying way, especially when it culminates in Cordelia’s ‘death’ which is shocking and then ingenious. Again, another episode which ends in a way that makes the lives of these characters worse than when they started (Xander, Willow, Oz, Cordelia, Buffy and Angel are all alone and sad), but in a way that seems logical and not as manipulative as the rest of this season has been. Come on Buffy, you need to give your characters a break. Sometimes.
VERDICT: 8.5/10

3.09 The Wish
An exceptional episode! A return to many of the arcs from season one (including the return of the Master. I had forgotten how creepy it was) and featuring a Vampire Willow and Xander, this is just incredibly well done. Quite scary but also a mediation on the relationship between the characters, especially in the deeply moving final slow-motion scene which allows many of the regular characters to kill of their respective partners (eg; Xander kills Cordelia, Oz kills Willow, Angel sacrifices himself for Buffy, made even more moving by the fact that it is strongly implied that he was aware of the other timeline) as well as a small bit of hope from Giles as Anya asks him how he knows that the other world is better than this one. His reply of because it has to be is surprisingly tear-jerking. A great story with some incredible moments and ideas (that machine!), this is just amazing. It takes the characters hating one another to extremes though and actually has very little impact on the arcs (as apart from Anya, no-one appears to remember) and still remains an enjoyable episode that is one of the best so far.
VERDICT: 10/10

3.10 Amends
Just once Buffy has a happy ending! However, it’s a long and painful road to get there as some of the darkest of Angel’s evils are revealed. Along the way, we get to see Jenny return (she’s not very nice but seeing as Angel did kill her…), Xander being nice (this is a miracle!), Giles helping Angel, Faith being part of a family and Oz and Willow getting back together. All of this and some truly disturbing and creepy villains in the First which simply have to come back. However, by far the greatest moment in this story (and quite possibly the entire series) is the moment where Buffy tries to convince a broken Angel not to kill himself. It’s immensely powerful and tear-jerking, especially in the context that it is very similar to a real-life suicide and contains some truly meaningful dialogue. Buffy calling Angel a monster if he does go through with it and that he will be weak if he chooses to end his life so easily is astonishingly real and achingly painful. The episode ends in the most beautiful and hopeful way and I don’t care if that snow in the street does look a little fake and it makes no real sense because it seems to suggest that even if there is evil in the world (as evidenced by the terror of the First) there is also hope and this seems to be even more powerful (it seems possible that some higher being created snow in order to allow for a happy ending). Utterly moving, dark and powerful but ultimately hopeful with the Slayorettes finally being happy together (except for Cordy), this is an absolute delight and one of the best episodes ever. This is how you do a Buffy episode which leaves the viewer believing that there is always a chance for redemption. Joyous.

VERDICT: 10/10

3.11 Gingerbread

“We need to save Buffy from Hansel and Gretel!” For an episode with such an unusual and mildly amusing remit, the actual episode is immensely disturbing. Taking in themes of public appeals after a shocking incident (and suggesting that they are a bit ludicrous because in most cases we actually know very little about them) and paranoia, this is one of the most horrifying and disturbing episodes so far. In some ways, it is similar to last year’s Ted, tackling some dark real-world issues while under the guise of a demon. However, where Ted came into problems was that the resolution was problematic. Here, the resolution that Hansel and Gretel are a demon is actually quite satisfying as it becomes clear that no-one could really be that terrifying. The greatest moment in this episode has to be when Joyce stands up in front of the entire town and says that they should be stronger and that Slayers don’t belong. It’s immensely shocking and completely unexpected, especially after she was finally trying to bond with Buffy. Also, the scene where Angel explains why they have to keep fighting, even if it is a little fruitless, is beautiful. Add to this Cordelia saving the day (it’s only been two episodes and already her absence was beginning to be felt) and you have a truly scary, emotional and brave hour of television.


3.12 Helpless

Continuing a run of extremely strong episodes (and tragic birthdays), this is tragic and incredibly painful. As has already been pointed out, this season seems to be greatly enjoying toying with the relationships of its characters and this time the relationship that is strongly tested is one of the strongest; Buffy and Giles. Seeing Buffy lose her strength and Giles being forced to be the one to do it, shows the hypocrisy and frustrating nature of the Slayer Council (they’re a bit villainous, really). The Council’s schemes also involve a truly terrifying and twisted psychotic Vampire who is incredibly disturbing, especially when he taunts Joyce (that seen in the room with all the photos is out of a horror movie) and a weakened Buffy (who acts like most weak horror movie victims and a number of the Sunnydale victims killed). Seeing her in such a weak state is shocking, especially when the guy Cordelia is with manages to push Buffy onto a bench. Again, Angel provides an emotional moment as he tells Buffy that he has always loved her, but the single best moment is when Cordelia interrupts the incredibly sad moment when Giles has revealed to Buffy that he has been forced to do this. It’s funny and moving, a winning mix. In an episode that focuses on Giles and Buffy’s relationship, the simple revelation that he acts like a father to her (the reason that he is fired from being her Watcher) makes complete sense and is made all the more moving as a result.

VERDICT: 7.5/10

3.13 The Zeppo

One of those you either love it or you hate it episodes, I think. Unfortunately, I fall into the latter category. An episode focussing on Xander despite the biggest menace that Sunnydale has ever seen is an experiment in frustration. Okay, Xander is more likeable in this episode than he has been all season (which isn’t hard) but this episode feels a bit like a parody of the series, especially when he interrupts Buffy and Angel getting emotional before that big battle. The idea of the undead partying is a mildly amusing concept and it is nice to see Xander finally getting some credit (in the viewer’s eyes) for the small part he plays in saving Sunnydale, but… yeah. I don’t know. It is immensely frustrating. The Hellmouth opening is (by all accounts) the largest menace they’ve had to face and we don’t even get to find out what happened. The idea of Xander losing his virginity to Faith on the last night of Earth is interesting, though. Also, how was the Hellmouth stopped? Overall, an immensely frustrating episode on so many levels. I just hope that this allows for some expansion of the character of Xander or it was just a waste of time.

VERDICT: 6.5/10

3.14 Bad Girls

Faith killed somebody! A fine return to form for this series, with some of the most shocking moments so far. The aforementioned murder is extremely horrifying, especially as it was clear that Faith and Buffy were treading a dangerous path. However, that is not all in this episode. Balthazar, the major demon, Buffy and her friends fight is incredibly disgusting, just a fat thing in a vat. Also, the appearance of Wesley is a joy to behold as he simply brings something new to this series, allowing Giles to be a hero and a bit snippy as well. The moment in the Bronze where Angel and Buffy talk while Wesley looks on is deeply amusing as the new Watcher’s bewilderment is clear. While the death of the mayor’s assistant is truly the most shocking moment of this story (and probably this season), it is not without want of companions. Buffy and Faith being captured by the police and the destruction it causes, the Mayor’s true form and Faith telling Buffy that she doesn’t care that she is now a killer are some of the most unexpected and shocking moments of this year. Overall, a deeply impressive story that will surely have repurcussions for some time to come.


3.15 Consequences

And then it gets emotional again. Just when you begin to get comfortable with this series, the rug is pulled and everything changes. This is that story. Faith realises her potential as a psychopath and Angel’s counsellor role finally makes sense. The fact that Buffy tries to hide her emotions before eventually revealing the truth to Willow after she breaks down is one of the more emotional moments of the series. The scene that follows this where she tries to tell Giles only to have him cut her off continues the new trend of shock moments (as does Xander being strangled and Wesley’s attack on Angel’s mansion) that seems to have replaced the friends disliking one another of earlier in the season. Although, this story does feature many people disagreeing with Faith’s actions, there is also a greater amount of empathy for her than there was at the start of this season, making it more believable, watchable and moving. Overall, a deeply emotional and shocking episode that also bodes well for the rest of the series as Faith finds herself in the clutches of the sinister Mayor.


3.16 Doppelgangland

After the tragic circumstances, a comedy was necessary. Thankfully, Doppelgangland is one of the absolute best episodes of the series so far. Basically a showcase for Willow, this episode features a return of Dark Willow from The Wish (remember when I said how that episode didn’t have any importance for the arc… Well, I was wrong) and it’s astonishingly good. Alyson Hannigan proves that she is one of the best actors on the series as she creates a distinctly different personality (and voice) for both Willows and to make things even more confusing has to be Virtuous Willow pretending to be Dark Willow and vice versa. The scene where the Willows say goodbye is oddly moving and genuinely funny (‘hands!) and the follow-up to it is genius with Dark Willow returning to her world only to get killed as she says “Oh, f---“. However, this episode is also emotional as Buffy, Xander and Giles become convinced that Willow is dead, only for her to turn up and her friends hug her. What makes this scene so amusing is the fact that Giles hugs her as well. Probably the funniest episode of the series so far (including some rather adult humour) and a brilliant story for Alyson Hannigan. No wonder Willow has been my favourite character for a while (looking back at my reviews, episode one actually).

VERDICT: 10/10

3.17 Enemies

Angelus is back. No, not really. That pretty much sums up the episode apart from the fact that we get more of the facts about Faith (she really is a bad girl) and the Mayor’s ascension (it’s happening on Graduation Day) but yeah, a bit of a flat episode really. The final reveal that Angelus wasn’t back was mildly predictable (and allows Angel to finally get his revenge back on Xander for being so annoying) which ruined aspects of that surprise. What the most notable aspect of this episode is that the Slayorettes finally learn of the Mayor’s impending ascension which, seeing we’re only five episodes until the end of the season is quite strange. Overall, a fairly average episode with predictable twists, a few small arc hints and a very twisted Faith.

VERDICT: 7.5/10

3.18 Earshot

Heartbreaking on many levels, this episode is completely genius. Giving Buffy the ‘gift’ of telepathy is a clever way to allow her to understand the moral centrepiece of this episode; the reveal of the assassin. The scene where Buffy confronts Jonathan is utterly astonishing because it’s so, so true. Having come from high school a very short time ago, it strikes at a very deep place within one’s heart to see it spelled out in such an honest and beautiful way. It’s simply one of the greatest scenes in the entire series. However, that’s not all here. We also have some very funny moments such as the reveal of the true killer (the looks Xander and the lunch lady give one another) and Giles walking into a tree because of the revelation that he and Joyce had sex (explaining the awkwardness between them since Band Candy). Overall, a funny, honest and touching episode let down only by the fact that takes so long to get to its key plot.

VERDICT: 10/10

3.19 Choices

A fairly average episode considering that it advances the main arc quite well. The problem is that there doesn’t really seem to be a main story here as it’s quite episodic with all of the plot seemingly pulling in all different directions. Some of these moments are enjoyable, though. Willow’s face-off with Faith has some extremely good points and the rogue Slayer had been deserving it. Similarly is the Mayor’s opinion of the inability for Angel and Buffy’s relationship to be lasting. He actually raises some really good points which hit home well and we get to learn a little bit more about him (his relationship with Edna May, for example, which is undercut a few scenes later with Buffy and Angel deciding that he doesn’t know what a lasting relationship is. Were they even listening?). The face-sucking spiders’ scene is actually terrifying and I hope we get to see more of them as promised. The emotional moments of the episode with Willow deciding to go to the same college as Buffy and Cordelia looking at a dress in the shop are surprisingly poignant and hopeful. Overall, a rather uninspired episode that sets up a few things regarding the arc plot of the Mayor’s ascension. It lacks cohesion, though and ends up feeling very fragmented.

VERDICT: 10/10
3.20 The Prom

Up to this moment, Buffy has been really depressing. From the Slayer’s death to Angel becoming evil and now Faith going to the dark side, it has always been a heartbreaking series. What made this even more difficult was that Buffy’s constant attempts to save the students of Sunnydale High had been ignored. And then this episode happened. It’s an incredible hour of television, shifting from the heartbreak of one of the key relationships that the series is based on to the horror of the Hellhounds. It never feels jilted and fragmented, though. This episode flows beautifully, leading to possibly the greatest moment of the series so far as Buffy is crowned Class Protector by Jonathan and the students. It’s a moment of recognition and belonging which is similar in many ways to the scene in Earshot. Both scenes are about the outsiders in high school, but while there it was played for sadness and disappointment, suggesting that we are all separate going through life, trying to deal with our own heartbreak, here it is played for joy and becomes extremely poignant and moving as a result. It’s a scene which celebrates those who were ignored in high school, stating that you truly do belong. It’s a beautiful message made even more poignant for those who have recently left high school. It feels so real and captures the mood of leaving high school perfectly, that mix of joy and sadness, utterly bittersweet. And then there’s the return of Angel to dance with Buffy and you’re in tears of joy again. Utterly amazing. But that’s not all at play here. The revelation of Cordelia’s pain is extremely well done. The same cannot be said for the Hellhounds which are defeated very easily, but that’s not the point of the episode. Most of the time, Buffy’s life is heartbreaking and difficult. But once in a while, some day comes along where everything seems to go right and she gets her perfect high school moment (it, in fact, happens twice). Beautiful, beautiful television.

VERDICT: 10/10

3.21 Graduation Day - Part 1

Wowsers! That fight between Buffy and Faith is so awesome. It’s a shame the rest of the episode isn’t quite that good. As per usual on a Buffy episode, it takes a little while to get there and I think it would have been a little cooler had we had the Mayor’s ascension as the cliffhanger as opposed to the fact that Buffy may have killed Faith. Anyway, apart from that this episode is basically about laying hints and suggestions about what Graduation Day may look like (which is quite odd considering that this is the second last episode), but this does mean the episode has its moments. Xander and Giles looking at a picture of the demon that continually folds out is both creepy and amusing. The team’s frustrations at Wesley and the Council finally reach a climax as Buffy effectively quits but decides to continue being a Slayer. This is a nice development which will hopefully mean that we see less of the Council’s bad side (such as the 18th birthday test) next season. Oh, and Willow loses her virginity to Oz in an extremely nice way. Overall, not a bad episode but with many preparations being made for the final episode and an amazing fight between Buffy and Faith which has been building up all year.


3.22 Graduation Day - Part 2

Wowsers! That fight between Buffy and Faith is so awesome. It’s a shame the rest of the episode isn’t quite that good. As per usual on a Buffy episode, it takes a little while to get there and I think it would have been a little cooler had we had the Mayor’s ascension as the cliffhanger as opposed to the fact that Buffy may have killed Faith. Anyway, apart from that this episode is basically about laying hints and suggestions about what Graduation Day may look like (which is quite odd considering that this is the second last episode), but this does mean the episode has its moments. Xander and Giles looking at a picture of the demon that continually folds out is both creepy and amusing. The team’s frustrations at Wesley and the Council finally reach a climax as Buffy effectively quits but decides to continue being a Slayer. This is a nice development which will hopefully mean that we see less of the Council’s bad side (such as the 18th birthday test) next season. Oh, and Willow loses her virginity to Oz in an extremely nice way. Overall, not a bad episode but with many preparations being made for the final episode and an amazing fight between Buffy and Faith which has been building up all year.

VERDICT: 8.5/10

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