In the nineteenth episode of the third season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy insists that the Scoobies take a proactive approach to dealing with Mayor Wilkins, but when it backfires, shit gets so unbearably real. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that season three is probably a heavy fan favorite out of all seven seasons of Buffy. I honestly would not be surprised because I am in shock at how brilliant, touching, and intense this entire string of episodes is. From “Homecoming” to this point, even considering some of the episodes that weren’t my favorite thing ever, this season has been consistently entertaining and thought-provoking to me. It’s just so quality. I think that the decision to bring in a more serialized story helps that, and as I’ve said before, I admit that I am biased in that regard. But I also don’t think you can deny the narrative power of “Choices” because its strength derives from so many things set up over the course of season three.
It’s why I like serial narratives so much. They reward you for paying attention. They give fiction layers, ones you can peel away in hindsight and appreciate even more than you did the first time around. “Choices” is so good because there are numerous things you can analyze as a standalone plot and as a part in a longer story. I think that analysis is much stronger in the latter case, too. I don’t think the Mayor’s gift to Faith holds as much weight unless we’d seen him develop a fatherly relationship with her. I don’t think Joyce’s joy at Buffy being accepted to Northwestern would mean as much to me if we’d not seen her journey as the mother of a Slayer throughout season three. (And for real, Joyce’s character became so much more fulfilling to me once she knew who her daughter was. GOD I JUST LOVE THIS SHOW SO MUCH RIGHT NOW.)
This is not the first time we’ve seen Buffy tackle the idea of the future, but I sort of didn’t care. At all. The one question that I’d been tormented by the past week or two concerned how this show was going to go on. Knowing that there are four more seasons left, I wondered how the hell we could deal with the Scoobies graduating. How could a show so intrinsically about the American high school experience move on from high school? Oh god, I am already full of feels about leaving high school as it is. IT WAS SUCH A HUGE MOMENT FOR ME. I think I will save those feels once the show actually addresses it, but with so many characters discussing college and their post-graduation lives, I got nervous. Like, WHAT IF THEY ALL HAVE TO REPEAT THEIR SENIOR YEAR. Or then I thought WHAT IF THEY REALLY DO GO THEIR SEPARATE WAYS. And then WAIT WHAT IF SOMETHING A BILLION TIMES WORSE THAN THAT HAPPENS. Oh god, something a billion times worse than that is going to happen. If the season two finale is any indication, season three’s finale is going to punch me in the soul.
It’s all this talk of the future of the Scoobies that inspires Buffy to demand they take their fight to the Mayor. Obviously, part of that is purely for a selfish reason: Buffy wants the chance to leave Sunnydale at some point and try something else. And why shouldn’t she? Why couldn’t she spend a month or two at another college and come back to Sunnydale for dire emergencies? Of course, once I gave that a second of thought, I realized that Sunnydale was always experiencing a dire emergency. But that’s not the point right now. Solving the problem of the Mayor and his Ascension now would only make things easier.
Wesley, however, doesn’t seem to think this is the case. I like that both Giles and Wesley are around, especially since I worried that we’d have a batch of episodes without Giles after he got fired. I do sympathize with him, though, even if I agree with Buffy in the end. This man just inherited perhaps the most difficult Watcher position imaginable, and it’s not his fault that he’s trying to take control of things. I don’t blame him, and I’m happy to report that I don’t dislike him at all. I expected to. Hell, I told you all I would hate Buffy’s next Watcher just on principle. But I’m coming to enjoy his character. Wait, I shouldn’t have said that, should I? FUCK. Goddamn it, he’ll die in the next couple of episodes, won’t he?
OKAY. THAT ASIDE, his frustration in “Choices” comes from the fact that no one listens to him. At all. I don’t even think the Scoobies’ plan to infiltrate City Hall is all that bad, either! But he is consistently faced with rejection by the group, and that’s got to be taxing on him, you know?
Was I surprised that the City Hall mission ended in disaster? Of course not. I’m trying to prepare myself for Buffy, and that means I need to accept that everything will get ruined at some point. For a second, I was shocked that it seemed that they had gotten away with the Box of Gavrok, but then I saw that Willow was captured and WHYYYYYYYYYYY.
So, can we just talk about the argument the rest of the Scoobies have in the library? BLESS THESE WRITERS AND ACTORS. It’s one of three scenes in “Choices” that is riveting and electrifying. Utilizing an awkward and high tension situation, the actors and actresses allow their emotions to quickly spill over as they fight over whether to save Willow. It’s uncomfortable to watch, especially when Wesley points out that keeping the box means they’ve saved A WHOLE TOWN, as opposed to saving one person and potentially damning Sunnydale to ruin. It’s a fucked up thing to hear because it’s hard to argue against that. Of course, to us and most of the people in that room, Willow is worth a billion people. She’s special. She means something. I think that’s why Oz just flips out. And bravo to the writers for having Oz’s freakout be entirely wordless. That is exactly what his character would do in that situation. SETH GREEN, YOU ARE SO TALENTED.
This episode also gives us a whole lot of Willow, and it made me realize just how far she’d come in her use of magic. The levitating pencil from earlier was impressive enough, but she uses that same technique to dust a vampire. YEAH, I DON’T CARE, THAT WAS FUCKING AMAZING. I also found it amazing and 100% in-character that Willow would escape captivity only to be completely entranced by books. Willow, you are just my favorite. But her speech to Faith? GOD, HOW IS THIS SHOW REAL? I admit that I expected Willow to try to convince Faith to come back to the Scoobies. Instead, she openly and harshly criticizes Faith for taking the difficult life she’s lived and making the lives of others’ even worse. That’s essentially what she’s doing, you know? And Willow just decides to openly reject her, and it’s such a raw moment for that character.
Really, though, the true brilliance of “Choices” is during the trade scene at the school’s cafeteria. In multiple ways, our expectations are completely shattered, AS ARE OUR HEARTS. I am just transfixed by Mayor Wilkins. I genuinely do not believe I can think of any villains on television that are like him at all. I find myself liking him so much, and then seconds later, he is disturbing my soul. His fatherly relationship with Faith is both touching and unbelievably uncomfortable at the same time. I can’t pin him down. I can’t define him. He has no real type or trope that I can name him by. And when he launches into a long and frustratingly depressing monologue about the choices Angel has made, he pretty much rips me apart.
Sweet summer child, his entire bit about Buffy and Angel’s future just hurts. I don’t want it to be true, but you can’t deny that Buffy will grow old while Angel doesn’t. It’s not that what Mayor Wilkins says is groundbreaking. It’s the way he says it. It’s the fact that he uses that situation to just tear apart the certainty of a relationship just because he can. It serves no real purpose that I can see. HE DOES IT BECAUSE HE CAN.
And then FUCK, Principal Snyder arrives, and this episode just continues to kick my ass. I thought that he’d continue to be in the dark about what was going on, AND THEN THE BOX WAS OPENED AND WHAT THE FUCK, STOP USING LARGE SPIDERS. WRITERS, PLEASE STOP IT. OH MY GOD, THERE ARE BILLIONS OF THOSE THINGS? HOW THE HELL IS THE MAYOR GOING TO USE THAT GODDAMN BOX FOR HIS ASCENSION? OH MY GOD, THAT WHOLE SCENE DISTURBS ME SO MUCH THAT I DON’T KNOW THAT I COULD WATCH IT AGAIN.
“Why couldn’t you be dealing drugs like normal people?”
AHAHAHAAHAH PRINCIPAL SNYDER. Oh my god. Is he still going to be rude to the Scoobies after this? Probably.
Can I also take this moment to correct Wesley? He scolds the Scoobies for prematurely facing off with the Mayor, stating that they’re right back where they started from. EXCEPT THEY ARE CLEARLY NOT, BECAUSE WILLOW STOLE PAGES FROM THE BOOKS OF ASCENSION. So shut up, Wesley. Just shut up.
It’s interesting how the three plots we’d seen over the course of “Choices” are addressed. Willow tells Buffy that she’s chosen UC Sunnydale to study at, hoping that she can further her abilities as a “bad ass Wicca” and to assist Buffy in saving the world. I like that the writers don’t do this out of some obligation for her character. This is what she wants and what makes her feel happy. UM THIS IS SUCH AN EXCITING DEVELOPMENT? HOLY FUCK. The Scoobies are going to college. Oh my god, I am INSTANTLY excited for season four.
But there was a very brief and subtle plot involving Cordelia in this episode, and for some reason, it affected me the most. Her teasing of and rudeness towards Xander isn’t all that entertaining anymore. Well, I suppose I feel that way about both of them. I admit that I did like them as a couple, so that’s part of the reason why. But Cordelia surprises Xander (and deflates his ego) when she shares with him the fact that she actually got into a bunch of universities herself. Unfortunately, Xander throws the fact that her father is rich in her face, and in an instant, you can see how much it hurt Cordelia. I don’t really feel sympathy towards people who are upper class, and I don’t think I did here, either. But I didn’t know if it was Cordelia’s father’s money that got her in, or if it was achieved solely by her.
I honestly did not get the final scene with her until I rewatched it again and realized that we’d been tricked earlier. Cordelia wasn’t shopping when Xander confronted her. SHE WORKS AT THAT STORE. What the fuck? Now it makes sense why she was admiring that dress. But… does that mean her father doesn’t have money? Or that she’s been cut off? I WANT TO KNOW MORE. WHY DON’T I HAVE A XANDER OR CORDELIA BACKSTORY EPISODE YET? oh god.