In the twentieth episode of the third season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I JUST HAVE TOO MANY FEELINGS AFTER THAT. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Buffy.
It’s just absurd at this point how good this show is. Season three has, largely, been consistently entertaining and thoughtful, and I’m shocked that I ever once thought I would be bored by Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I also think it’s a good sign when an episode of television can make me tear up and want to reach through the screen to hug all the characters. THIS EPISODE JUST NEEDS SO MANY HUGS.
I had a feeling from the opening scene that this particular episode was setting up something horrific. It just seemed too nice to see Buffy and Angel hanging out in bed. Like, they were being too cute. JOSS WILL NOT LET THIS STAND. Truthfully, though, I fought it the entire way. I could see the awkwardness on Angel’s face when Buffy spoke about the prom, and it was a look I’ve seen before. A great deal of this episode reminded me of the first boyfriend I had and how that relationship fell apart. He used to give me that same look towards the end of our time together whenever I talked about anything that had to do with the future. In his head, he was already dumping me, but he didn’t have the guts to tell me at the time. So, instead, his facial expressions would betray his words.
I wonder if Buffy saw them, or if she just chose to ignore them. Either way, what I enjoyed about “The Prom” was the way that love can prevent a person from seeing what’s right in front of them. I think Buffy so readily accepts that her and Angel are done because there’s a part of her that knew their relationship couldn’t last. Do I blame her for initially refusing it? No, not at all, and from experience, I know what that sort of situation feels like.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The first fifteen or twenty minutes of “The Prom” is a way for the writers to set up the inevitable fall that hits in the middle of the episode. I think the contrast between the joy of the upcoming prom and Joyce’s confrontation of Angel is intentional. In this case, we see Xander, Anya (OHMYGOD I LOVE HER MORE ANYA), Willow, and Oz discussing dresses, surprises, dates, and generally being distracted by everything that the event represents. It’s an adorable scene, and it’s one filled with hope. It’s why the next scene is one entirely about doubt. Joyce doubts what Angel has to offer. Angel doubts that he can give Buffy a future. What struck me most about that scene was how calm the confrontation was. Normally, you’d see something far more fiery and furious. But I think these two characters have a sort of mutual respect for one another. More important than that, though, Angel knows that what Joyce is telling him is true. He doesn’t fight. In fact, it’s clear that it’s all that he is thinking of lately.
It’s with that in mind that I feel this story becomes one of distraction. Angel is distracted when he talks to Buffy. The Scoobies are distracted when Giles tries to talk about the Mayor’s Ascension. I am constantly distracted by Joyce’s conversation. I recognized that this was a set up for something, and as badly as I didn’t want this to be the end, I had to accept that this was probably what I was about to witness. I was distracted by the idea that the Mayor could turn into pretty much any demon on graduation day, and then I was distracted by WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT THING IN THE CAGE. Did anyone else think it sort of looked like the Grinch? You know, the live-action one?
And then Angel has a dream. AN EXTREMELY FUCKED UP DREAM. Like, for real, it bothered me so much to see Buffy burn up in the sun, even though I knew it wasn’t real. For Angel, that dream represented what he thought he was doing to Buffy. It’s why things fall apart on the next patrol he goes on with her. And look, I probably don’t comment on this as much as I should, but sweet Gandalf’s beard, the acting is just so amazing to me in all of “The Prom.”
I don’t know how many of you have ever experienced a surprising and traumatic break-up. I definitely don’t think that I want to say that the break-up scene in “The Prom” triggered me or anything, but it absolutely reminded me of the first time I had a boyfriend, and how that relationship fell apart. For those unfamiliar (and this will date me so badly but FUCK IT), my first boyfriend told me he was moving home to Washington, D.C. (we lived in Los Angeles) over Christmas break. While he was in D.C. Which means he told me OVER MYSPACE. My god, it was so shitty that in hindsight, all I feel like I can do is laugh at the absurdity of it. If I still had my MySpace page, I would log in and paste the message here for all of you to see what a colossal fool this guy was. The best way I can describe the message is that he wrote this super long bit about how he was doing, how his family was, what he’d been up to for the holidays, and then casually tacked on, “Oh, just wanted you to know I’m moving back in with my mother here in D.C. at the end of January. Hope you’re doing well!”
SERIOUSLY THIS WAS A THING A PERSON DID TO ME. Unfortunately for me, I was so infatuated with this person (WHHHHYYYYYYYYYYYY) that I still believed we were going to stay together. It certainly caused me a lot of pain before he came home a couple weeks later, but I held firm to the idea that we were going to make this work.
The truth was that months before, he’d already started cheating on me, and that he was only in a relationship with me because I had money and I was nice to him. I wasn’t rich, but I had just started working at Buzznet and I was living for free with my brother. Aside from a $30 cell phone bill, I had no other expenses in my life, so I had disposable income for the first time ever. Did I waste a great deal of it on this sad fucker? Of course I did. OH LOVE, YOU’RE THE BEST.
I didn’t find out any of this until months after my first boyfriend dumped me. I remember how horrific that event made me feel, and how it took me nearly a year to get over it. It’s why New Moon frustrates me so much. There’s so much to be said about being heartbroken and losing someone you love. I think it’s something we all should talk about because it’s a painful, disorienting process. And yet that book treats it in the silliest, most dismissive way possible. That’s not the point of this, though. I remember crying when my ex told me that we shouldn’t see each other, that he didn’t have any feelings for me, and that it would be best if we went our separate ways, and I remember that I cried just like Buffy did here in “The Prom.” It was an ugly, messy cry. I fought it. I fought everything he said so hard, despite that it really was better for me that we broke up, because it made me feel worthless.
I think that might be a part of why this hits Buffy so hard. She doesn’t feel like she’s good enough for Angel, and it’s something I recognize myself. It’s not that she’s a bad person or that she’s not compatible. There’s a part of who she is – in this case, her mortality – that will never work with Angel, and it tears her apart to finally have to admit it. (Oh god, sorry, I have to, but WHAT THE FUCK, TWILIGHT SERIES. THIS SHOW DID EVERYTHING YOU DID BUT A BAJILLION TIMES BETTER.) I think I just gave up trying to hold back my tears when Buffy and Willow have their talk in this episode. Ugh, to just see her give herself to that sadness? You know, that particular scene affected me not just because I know what it’s like to lose someone you love like that, but because the first time I got dumped, I did not have a Willow. I had no one to tell about what had happened. I had to keep it all to myself. I literally had just moved into an apartment in MacArthur Park to live alone, and I had gotten it specifically because it was the same building my boyfriend at the time had lived in. He recommended it. And just two weeks after moving in, I had to deal with this horrible thing in my life, and I’d have to go home to that vacant, unfurnished apartment every single day. I had no Internet, no computer, no friends nearby, and no social life either. I’d given so much of my free time to this guy that my friends hadn’t really seen much of me.
This is also why I am just floored at how Buffy deals with this. I just have so much respect for her as a character because she takes this pivotal, depressing moment of her life, and she turns it into a positive experience. Before this happens, though, the writers introduce the main conflict for “The Prom”: Tucker Wells, bitter because one girl rejected him for a prom date, has brought Hellhounds to life, and he’s trained them to attack people wearing formal wear. I found it brilliant how the show addressed Tucker’s backstory because it was such a biting commentary on how ridiculous it is that he would create this whole plan just because someone didn’t want to go to the Prom with him.
It’s also because of this that Xander finds out that Cordelia works at April Fools, the best-named fictional store in the universe. Cordelia’s father committed tax fraud, and now she and her family are broke. UGH MY HEART. What an uncomfortable scene, I swear. I wish we got more of this because I want to see Cordelia’s family. Actually, I want to see Xander’s as well. Where is Cordelia living if her family lost their home? Also, during that entire scene, did you think Cordelia’s boss was going to interrupt her and fire her? Because I did, and it made me nervous. REALLY NERVOUS.
So, with all this going on at once, I was so surprised how much this story actually finds a way to give these various characters a happy ending. Most of all, though, I was impressed with Buffy Summers. I don’t know how she does it. I was such a mess post-break up that I didn’t do anything but go to work and watch Arrested Development and The X-Files alone in my apartment for nearly a month. Buffy puts aside all her feelings so that SHE CAN GIVE EVERYONE A PERFECT PROM. Do you know what sort of capacity for kindness a person has to possess to do this? And that’s not even factoring the reality that SHE JUST GOT DUMPED FOR THE FIRST TIME, or that SHE PROBABLY ISN’T GOING TO HAVE A PROM HERSELF. Buffy Summers, I just love you so, so much.
There was a beautifully shocking moment when Buffy discovers that Tucker raised FOUR Hellhounds, but otherwise, she’s able to take care of the problem entirely by herself because she’s a selfless badass. I thought it was a tad strange that she killed a Hellhound in front of a student and he barely seemed shocked by it, BUT THIS HAD A REASON. OH MY GOD. This whole episode is wrapped up so perfectly, too. Anya and Xander have a good time. Oz and Willow look gorgeous. Xander pays off Cordelia’s dress and AHHHHHHH MY HEART IS GOING TO BURST.
But let’s get real for a moment. The Class Protector Award scene made me do that I’m-So-Happy-I-Can’t-Help-But-Weep kind of cry. It has this unique sense of finality to it. School is coming to an end. Season three is almost over. And all these years of no one really saying anything about what’s going on in Sunnydale High is acknowledged, and Buffy gets her perfect moment at the prom and I just have so many feelings, okay?
Angel’s appearance is bittersweet. It’s clear that this is the impetus for him getting his own show, so I know that his presence in Buffy’s life is not going to last. But I remember the first time I hung out with my ex after he dumped me, feeling that flood of emotions pouring back, and I recall how just the sight of him was enough to tell me that I would be okay, and that for the briefest moment in time, I was appreciated. And sometimes, that’s all a person needs.