Written by Joss Whedon
Directed by Joss Whedon
At the Bronze, Xander is practicing his asking Buffy to the dance speech on Willow. Dang it, the crush subplot is back, and so Xander’s habit of using Willow as his wingman. Buffy is out fighting a vampire in some park where Cordelia and a different piece of arm-candy than last week are making out in her car.
At the library, Giles is deep in research with the book Angel brought him. He finds something about the Master and the Slayer that greatly disturbs him. Before he can take a soothing drink of tea, an earthquake hits. It’s a pretty bad one. Down in the Ominous Church/Cavern Set, the Master is rejoicing and then being a huge dork.
The next morning, Giles is looking rather less put-together than usual. Buffy comes in, her usual teasing but upbeat self. Vampire activity is increasing, and she’s worried. Giles is too distracted by whatever kept him up all night to pay attention, and he’s very jumpy whenever the topic of Buffy’s “terrible fate” comes up. Uh oh.
Willow, Buffy, and Xander are walking out of class, and Xander hints at Willow until she leaves, then leads Buffy over to a bench in the courtyard. He asks her out. Her face immediately falls. She listens to him, but tells him she doesn’t feel the same way. He does not handle it gracefully at all, leaving her feeling guilty and upset.
In the library, Giles is on the phone with someone when Jenny Calendar shows up. She points out how not put-together he looks. She presents a bunch of evidence that some major apocalyptic crap is going on. She wants to help Giles. She has information about the Anointed from a monk who’s been emailing about a prophecy.
Cordelia is apparently in charge of organizing the Spring Fling dance. Current arm-candy guy is helping her with that. Willow shows up, and Cordelia enlists her help too, but Willow notices a downcast Xander sitting in an empty classroom. She goes to talk to him. Xander blames Buffy’s rejection on her feelings for Angel. He tries to ask Willow to the dance instead, but she rejects him. She won’t be a consolation prize. Despite her own disappointment, she’s sorry things didn’t work out how Xander wanted.
That night at school, Buffy gets a stake out of her locker and then goes to the bathroom. Blood comes out of the faucet! She goes to tell Giles, and finds him talking to Angel in the library. This is the first time she’s seen Angel since they kissed. However, before she can talk to either of them, she overhears Giles tell Angel about the immutable prophecy about her death at the Master’s hands.
Buffy starts laughing a little hysterically. Angel and Giles come over to her. Buffy feels terrified and betrayed. She says she quits. She doesn’t want any part of this. She doesn’t want to die. The Master can rise for all she cares. She rips off the cross necklace Angel gave her and throws it on the ground and leaves.
Willow tries to call Xander, but he’s moping at home. He hangs up, then leaves the receiver off the hook so nobody can call. Buffy’s at her house, looking through photo albums. Joyce comes in and reveals that she bought the dress Buffy wanted. Buffy wants to leave town for the weekend. Joyce thinks it’s because she’s upset about not getting asked to the dance by the right boy. She tells Buffy the story of the college dance at which she met Hank. Buffy feels a little heartened for a moment, but then remembers the prophecy and sinks again.
The next morning, Willow and Cordy are at school, looking for Cordy’s arm-candy, who failed to do what he said he would. They find him and his friends in a room watching TV. The TV has a bloody handprint on the screen, but the girls don’t notice anything’s wrong until they open the door and arm-candy guy’s body falls at their feet. Vampires have killed all of boys inside, and it’s a grisly scene.
Buffy is all dressed up in the lovely white dress. Joyce tells her about the news with the murdered students. She goes to Willow’s house. Willow is not okay. She’s traumatized. Buffy realizes that if she walks away from this fight, the vampires will destroy everything she cares about anyway. She knew that before, but she didn’t understand what it really meant. Now she does, and she finds she can’t just do nothing. She says goodbye to Willow in a way that feels like she doesn’t expect to see her again, then leaves.
The Master is anticipating his freedom, which will be soon. He sends the Anointed out to bring Buffy to him.
Giles and Jenny are talking about what happens if the Master gets out. It will open the Hellmouth, release demons, and ultimately end the world as they know it. They realize that the Anointed is actually a child. Jenny wants to warn Buffy, but Giles wants to leave her out of it. He’ll face the Master instead. Buffy arrives, and Giles still tries to keep Buffy safe, but she’s determined. She punches him out, puts on her cross necklace, picks up the crossbow, and leaves.
The Anointed is waiting outside the school, and Buffy goes with him.
Xander and Willow are at the library now, and Giles is awake. Xander is freaking out that Buffy is heading to her death. He doesn’t care about any of the other consequences of this apocalypse, he just wants to make sure Buffy survives. He has an idea, and he ditches them…
…To go to Angel’s apartment! Their conversation is full of hostility, more on Xander’s part than Angel’s. Xander updates Angel on Buffy’s renewed determination to stop the Master and asks for Angel’s help finding his lair. Angel doesn’t know what they can do to thwart a prophecy, but unlike him, Xander isn’t a fatalist. He sticks a cross in Angel’s face, and Angel makes this ridiculously sexy growling noise. Wait, I’m not sure I heard that correctly. Better rewind it a few times just to be safe. *coughs* What? Xander doesn’t like Angel, but he wants him to live up to Buffy’s admiration of him right now.
At the library, Giles, Jenny, and Willow are now trying to figure out exactly where the Hellmouth will open.
In the tunnels, Buffy is at the entrance to the Ominous Church/Cavern Set. When she sees the Master, she tries some banter. The Master isn’t impressed. She shoots him with the crossbow, but he catches the bolt in his hand.
Xander and Angel are on their way. Xander thinks Angel wants his blood. Angel is annoyed. This is a very antagonistic team-up, and it’s really funny.
The Master tells Buffy she’s the hunted, not the hunter. Giles, Jenny, and Willow think the Bronze is the likely Hellmouth spot. Jenny and Willow leave to head there. In his lair, the Master catches Buffy, and it’s a lot like in her nightmare a few episodes ago. Jenny and Willow get outside, where vampires are closing in on the school in greater numbers than anything we’ve seen all season.
The Master uses some kind of psychic power to prevent Buffy from fighting or fleeing. He pulls off her jacket, which leaves her neck exposed. He tells her that she’s the key to his release; the prophecy is self-fulfilling. He bites her, and she is completely terrified. He drops her face-first into a pool of dirty water, then breaks free of his prison at last.
Xander and Angel realize something’s up, and they pick up the pace. Angel makes it down to Buffy first and pulls her out of the water. She’s dead. Xander thinks there’s still a chance, because she died from drowning. Angel tells Xander he has to do the CPR because he has no breath.
*record scratch* Okay, hold up there just one second. First, if you’re going to say you have no breath, try not to say it while panting heavily from that run through the tunnels. Second, you can’t make sound out of your face-hole or use your sense of smell without breathing, and you regularly do both. You might not need the oxygen, but you are still capable of inhaling and exhaling, and can therefore perform CPR.
Now, to be fair to Angel, he might not know CPR. CPR only became a common thing in the ‘70s, at which point Angel was living in alleys and sewers, avoiding all human contact and living off rats. Growing up in the early 1700s, Angel never would have learned much about the respiratory system, and once he became a vampire, it would’ve seemed pretty irrelevant. So while I do not for a second buy that Angel is physically incapable of performing CPR, I can accept that he would have no way of knowing this. And Xander isn’t exactly well informed himself, so he wouldn’t correct him.
Now back to our show. Xander starts doing CPR. At the school, Cordelia drives up to rescue Willow and Jenny before the vampires get to them. Xander continues doing CPR. Angel starts to give up hope, but Buffy finally comes to and coughs up all that water. She’s okay! Cordelia drives her car INTO the school to expedite the process of getting to the library. The ladies run into the library just before the vampires start arriving, and then, with Giles’s help, they barricade the doors. Giles doesn’t understand why vampires are coming to the library, but over by the bookstacks, tentacles are starting to emerge from the floor.
The Master takes his first steps into the world he hasn’t seen in sixty years. Xander and Angel help Buffy stand up. They think she might need more time to recover, but she feels fine. She feels strong.
In the library, vampires are attacking the other entrances. Willow and Jenny try to barricade them from getting into the stacks, and Giles goes to block the window in his office. A vampire grabs Cordelia through the window in the library door, and she screams for help.
Cue the theme song! Buffy is striding confidently towards the school, flanked by Xander and Angel. She knows instinctively where she needs to go. Xander and Angel stand guard to make sure nobody else comes to help the Master. In the library, the tentacle monster grabs Willow’s ankle and Cordelia bites the vampire grabbing her. A hideous three-headed slimy demon thing erupts from the floor of the library.
The Master is watching from the library’s skylight. Buffy cuts off his triumphant reveling. Below them, Giles takes an axe to the tentacle monster. The Master uses his psychic power on Buffy again, but it doesn’t seem to be working quite as well now. She punches him, and they start fighting in earnest.
Giles’s axe fight with the tentacle monster sends him crashing into a table, breaking it into jagged pieces. Angel has more success against a vampire opponent. On the roof, Buffy’s fight with the master continues. She throws him through the skylight, and he falls on the jagged table. Unlike other vampires, he leaves a skeleton behind, not just dust. The tentacle demon retracts back into wherever it came from. I’m not sure what happens to the rest of the vampires, but they aren’t attacking anymore.
A more subdued, piano version of the theme song plays while everyone takes in their victory. They head out of the library together, on their way to the dance. The camera pans to the Master’s skeleton, and the episode ends.
“Prophecy Girl” is an excellent finale to the season. Objectively, it’s an even better episode than “Angel” (although “Angel” is still my personal favorite). It’s packed with as much emotion as action. The pacing is good, the dialogue is good, the acting is amazing. Each character gets very strong material to work with rather than getting sidelined by Buffy’s story. The stakes have never been higher. It’s fascinating how Plot A and Plot B drive all of the characters apart at first (Giles avoids Buffy while researching the prophecy, Xander’s pursuit of Buffy drives Willow away from her, Buffy’s and Willow’s rejections of Xander drive him away from both of them, the prophecy drives Buffy away from everyone), but then they still come back together because of what they need to do, and Jenny, Cordelia, and Angel also become part of the group. This episode even makes “The Puppet Show” retroactively more meaningful, because it’s about a demon-hunter who sacrifices his life to kill the monster, which is what Buffy has to do in this one. There’s not much more I can say that isn’t specific to the individual characters, so I’ll just move on to that part now.
Buffy, fresh off her realization that being the Slayer is more meaningful than what her life was before, is now slammed with a prophecy of her imminent death. This may be the first example of Joss not letting characters ever get too comfortable and optimistic about their circumstances, and it’s done very well. Sarah knocks that scene out of the park, and Tony and David aren’t phoning it in either. Buffy has known in theory that Slayers typically have a pretty short shelf life, but that was sort of a vague idea before. She’s been killing demons while cracking jokes for nearly a year. She’s won all her battles. Suddenly, death is an immediate concern, and it’s too much. This is the first time the peril she faces and the toll it takes really sink in, both for her, for Giles and Angel, and for the audience. She’s a kid, but she’s saddled with this enormous responsibility that nobody else can quite relate to. She’s being asked to do more than anyone her age should ever have to do. Once she sees the reality of a world with no Slayer defending it, however, she realizes that she can’t just do nothing, and she chooses to go back into the fight. Her sense of responsibility is stronger than her own survival instinct. She’s a hero. She goes to face the Master with determination, but not confidence. The confidence doesn’t come until after Xander brings her back from the dead. Having already faced death at the Master’s hands, she’s no longer afraid of him. It’s a nice tie-in to what the Master said about how fear can only control us if we let it. She’s not letting it anymore, so his power over her is broken.
Giles’s fear of not being able to do enough to make a difference in Buffy’s fight comes roaring back in this episode. He keeps the truth from Buffy as long as he can, trying desperately to find some kind of escape route for her. If the prophecy is correct, then not only is there nothing Giles can do for Buffy, but he’s the one who’ll have to tell her what’s coming. His nightmares come to life far more painfully in this episode than in “Nightmares.” This is why he tries to face the Master in Buffy’s place. I doubt he believes he’ll stand a chance, but he cannot just sit back, safe and comfortable, while the girl he’s coming to regard as a daughter goes and gets killed.
Willow has faced many dangers this season, gone through the loss of a friend, a teacher, and a principal, and she’s emerged from all of that virtually unscathed. (I still have serious issues with Jesse’s death not having a lasting impact on her, but whatever.) This is the episode where that changes. A space that was sacred to her is violated by monsters. She feels more vulnerable and more afraid than she ever has, but instead of hiding in her room for the rest of the episode, she keeps trying to help. Over in Plot B, she also does really well. She’s been pining for Xander for years; it would have been very easy to accept his invitation to the dance. But she’s not willing to settle for less than something real from him. Rejecting him took strength.
Xander’s crush on Buffy finally runs its course. If nothing else had happened after his really ugly reaction to Buffy’s rejection, then I’d be leaving season 1 despising Xander. He gains points for actually asking her out, but then he loses them all for how he handles her rejection. He lashes out, trying to hurt her with his accusations about her taste in men. Buffy was as kind as she could be, telling him how deeply she values his friendship and apologizing for not feeling the same way, but when Xander recounts it for Willow, he twists it and makes it about Buffy’s feelings for Angel, even though Buffy never brought Angel up and hasn’t seen him in at least a month. It’s horrible. It’s not until Willow rejects him that he finally gets his wake-up call. He goes home and mopes for a while, but I think he realizes that he’s been taking advantage of Willow’s friendship. When he hears about the prophecy and that Buffy’s going to fight the Master anyway, it’s the first time all season that he’s been concerned about her, not as the object of his crush, but as a person he cares about. This is the Xander who’s worthy to bring Buffy back to life. This is the Xander who’s worthy to be Buffy and Willow’s friend. He does mouth-to-mouth to save Buffy. Had that day gone the way he wanted, he would have been kissing her at that point. Instead, he’s saving her life.
Cordelia gets the most character development she’s had all season. She begins the episode already more willing to interact with Willow than she’s been before. Her Queen Bee mask seems to be dropping just a little. Then, when she finds her boyfriend Kevin dead, after she’s taken some time to deal with it, she doesn’t just revert to classic Cordelia form. She comes to join the fight. Doing so likely saved Willow’s and Jenny’s lives. She ends this season as something more than a two-dimensional foil for Buffy.
Angel takes an interesting journey in this one. He starts out in the same fruitless struggle as Giles, trying to find a way around a prophecy. Buffy is the reason his existence has meaning again and he loves her; he certainly doesn’t want her to die. At first glance, it may seem odd that he wouldn’t pull a Giles and try to face the Master for her, but Angel is very new to the idea that he can make a positive difference in the world. Just a few episodes ago, he tried to provoke Buffy into killing him because he’d given up. He seems to have very set ideas about his own role. He’s just a satellite to Buffy, and she’s the one who’s supposed to face the Master, so he doesn’t question that. When Xander tells him that Buffy changed her mind and is going to fight the Master in spite of the prophecy, Angel doesn’t think there’s anything they can do about it. I don’t think this is because he doesn’t care—not at all. He just can’t see how a prophecy can be avoided. When Xander brings Buffy back, effectively introducing an unforeseen loophole into the prophecy, I think that has a profound impact on Angel. Buffy is now living proof that destiny isn’t just what’s dictated to you; it’s based on what you do. So far, the only vampire he’s staked is Darla, and that was to save Buffy. Now, he joins the battle at large. He won’t just be on the sidelines anymore. He’s going to take his destiny into his own hands.
“On a scale of one to ten? It sucked. I guess it could be worse. I could have gangrene on my face.”
Series count of Giles’s head injuries: 3
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.