Buffy the Vampire Slayer 3x19 Review: The Things We're Willing to Sacrifice...and the Things We're Not
Written by David Fury
Directed by James A. Contner
Faith is sitting in the Mayor’s chair, and he’s giving her a present. He claims he’s not doing it for any particular reason, and then he says it’s a preemptive thank you gift for doing a certain task for him. Holy crap, I never noticed that his gifts aren’t just because of his weird fatherly attachment to her. He’s also manipulating her. Yikes. The gift is a really awesome-looking dagger, which she greatly appreciates.
Buffy and Angel are out patrolling together. They take out two vampires handily, but Buffy’s kind of bummed about how all they ever do together is fight monsters. This doesn’t matter one way or the other to the monsters, though, so for now, they’re going to table the conversation and keep fighting.
The next day, Buffy’s studying in the kitchen and Joyce comes in to gush about her acceptance letter from Northwestern. Buffy does not share her excitement, since she feels that she’s going to have to stay in Sunnydale for Slayer reasons, no matter where she gets accepted. Buffy heads out while Joyce calls her sister Arlene to brag about it.
Snyder fancies himself a DEA guy and stalks the courtyard demanding to see the contents of people’s lunchbags. Buffy is talking to Willow and Oz about college, and how since Faith defected, she’s stuck in Sunnydale. Willow got into Oxford, and she’s proud but uncertain she wants to that far away. Xander does not plan on going to college at all (or maybe he just got accepted nowhere). Instead, he’s going to go on a road trip after graduation. Cordelia swings by to deliver their daily dose of snark, but that delivery seems a bit less haughty and rather more bitter than usual.
One of Cordelia’s remarks pushes Buffy over the edge with her current issue. She tells Wesley that she wants to go out of town—possibly out of state—for college. She feels he’s only seeing her as a Slayer and not as a person. (Also, I think the “something-ism” word she’s searching for is “reductionism,” but I’m not entirely sure. Any suggestions?) Giles is proud of her for getting into Northwestern, but Wesley is adamant that the Hellmouth needs a Slayer around full time. In that case, Buffy wants to take the offensive with the Mayor so that Sunnydale will be in a stable enough condition for her to leave. Wesley also doesn’t want her to do that, because he thinks it’s too risky. (Come on, man, pick one argument and stick with it. You can’t say Sunnydale needs a Slayer around all the time and then stop her from taking action.) Giles is supportive, though.
Faith goes to do the thing the Mayor preemptively thanked her for, which is collecting a package from a scary dude at the airport. When he isn’t 100% satisfied with the terms of the deal, Faith kills him with an arrow through the chest. Hey it’s that hunting bow she stole from the sporting goods shop in “Bad Girls.” Nice continuity. The vampire guy is shocked that she would do something so extreme. Then she uses her shiny new toy to cut snake tattoo guy’s hand off (because he handcuffed himself to the merchandise).
Buffy does recon at City Hall, and she sees Faith bringing in the box. Faith takes it up to the Mayor and pockets the money that was intended for snake tattoo guy. The Mayor praises her, but he makes the mistake of mentioning Buffy’s name in the process, so she gets all annoyed. Curious, she tries to open the box, but he slams it shut again. Apparently bad things will happen if that opens.
Next, Buffy finds the limousine Faith was in and beats up the vampire guy until he tells her what the box is. Then she stakes him and goes back to the Scoobies with her information so that they can plan a heist! Awesome. Everyone but Wesley is in full plan mode. He’s trying to find flaws in the plan at every turn. They’ve already considered all the problems he spots in the plan, and they get to work.
Xander goes to get the ingredients for the spell that will destroy the box, and he spots Cordelia inside a fancy dress shop. He pops in to get her back for her insults the previous day. He thinks she was being so mean because she’s bitter about not getting into any schools. But she actually got into a lot of schools. So he retreats, but there’s definitely something wrong in Cordelia’s life that we don’t know about yet.
The heist is about to go down. They pull up to City Hall in a big van. Wesley wants to be super nitpicky about everything, but everyone else just wants to plow forward, so they do. Buffy, Angel, and Willow head up to the roof while Giles and Wesley wait in the getaway van with a thermos of tea. Back at the library, Xander and Oz are working on putting together the ingredients of the spell to destroy the box. Willow left detailed instructions, complete with stick figures of the boys. Aww.
Angel opens the skylight and Willow does a spell to break the magical defenses around the box. It works. The bluish forcefield around it comes down. Willow leaves, and Angel lowers Buffy through the skylight on a harness. She grabs the box, an alarm goes off, and the harness jams so she can’t go back up. He gives up on the harness and jumps down to help her fight the vampire guards who’ve just arrived. They successfully fight them off and escape with the box. The vampires chase them, but they follow the van when they get outside, not noticing that Buffy and Angel dove into the bushes. It seems like the whole thing went off without a hitch. The Mayor is furious. However, Faith caught Willow when she got to the bottom of the ladder.
At the library, everyone’s trying to figure out what to do next. The Mayor will kill Willow if they don’t trade the box back. Wesley disagrees. If they don’t destroy the box, thousands of people could die. They can’t risk that just for Willow’s sake. Everyone else, particularly Buffy, Oz, and Xander, is furious with him for even suggesting that they let Willow die. Giles and Angel seem to think Wesley has a point, but they don’t openly take his side. Honestly, I’m on Wesley’s side too. Oz settles the argument by smashing the pot of ingredients that would destroy the box.
At City Hall, Willow is unsuccessful at finding a way out of the room she’s locked in. She makes enough noise to bring one of the vampire guards into the room, and he’s about to bite her when she floats a pencil straight through his back. (How can a pencil possibly be sturdy enough to go through several inches of vampire?) She’s about to run out of the room and escape when the Mayor and Faith leave his office. So she waits for them to pass, then goes into his empty office instead. She finds the Books of Ascension in the Satanic liquor cabinet, and starts reading.
Enough time passes that she’s able to flip through all five of them. (Holy crap, girl. Maybe you should’ve just escaped instead?) Faith comes in, and since Willow now knows too much about the Mayor, she’s about to kill her. Then Willow gives her the “boo hoo your tragic childhood” speech. Just because she got dealt a bad hand doesn’t mean she can just be evil. Faith punches her. Willow gets back up, and she actually does a very good job of standing up to Faith, not cowering or crying. She holds her head up, even when Faith puts the spiffy dagger to her throat. Then the Mayor comes in and calls Faith off. Giles has called about making the trade.
The Scoobies have set up the trade spot in the school cafeteria. There’s only one way out. Then the power goes out. Not a problem for Angel with his vamp night vision. The Mayor, Faith, and a gang of vamp minions. Faith has Willow. Before they make the trade, the Mayor asks Angel why he picked Buffy over Faith. Because sanity? Faith doesn’t like that, and Oz tells Angel to back off because Faith’s getting rougher with Willow. The Mayor lectures Angel on how selfish and unfair it is for him to be with Buffy, since she’s young and mortal and he can’t even sleep with her without going evil. Angel is clearly very affected by this. Nobody has a retort for him. They do the trade. And then Snyder shows up with cops, still trying to be DEA guy. He thinks he’s busting a drug deal. Until he realizes the Mayor is there. One of the cop guys opens the box and a freaky bug monster jumps out, latches onto his face, and kills him. It jumps on the Mayor next, but Faith throws it off and kills it with her dagger. The Mayor is fine because of his invulnerability. Buffy kills another one of the bugs. There are only about fifty billion more in the box, and the Mayor threatens to unleash them all if the Scoobies don’t let him and his people leave. They do. Faith has no choice but to leave her dagger behind. Snyder is kind of in shock. He leaves, still holding a cafeteria chair up like a shield. Buffy grabs Faith’s dagger out of the wall.
Willow recounts her experience at City Hall. Giles is practically salivating at the possibility that she got useful information from the Books of Ascension. She did, in fact. She ripped out the most useful pages she found, and she hands them off to him. Wesley is Mr. Pessimism still; he feels they’re back on square one, unless those pages do prove useful.
The next day, Buffy is feeling that she’s definitely stuck in Sunnydale now. Willow makes that a decidedly less depressing thought by showing Buffy her acceptance letter to UC Sunnydale. Buffy tackle-hugs her, which is the cutest thing ever.
Willow isn’t just doing this for Buffy, though. Her experience cleared some things up for her. She wants to keep fighting evil with Buffy. It’s the most important thing she could do. Also, it’s the best place to learn more about witchcraft. They head out for mochas.
Cordelia is at the fancy dress shop again, admiring a sparkly black one. Turns out, she is working there. What has happened in her life?
Buffy and Angel are having a cemetery picnic. She’s telling him about her college plans at UC Sunnydale. Campus is apparently closer to the mansion than her house is. They try to brush off what the Mayor said about the doomed nature of their relationship, but neither of them seems to entirely believe what they’re saying.
“Choices” is a lot of fun to watch, particularly if you like heists (which I do), but it’s also kind of troubling. Wesley is right about what they should have done. It’s protagonist-centered morality for the Scoobies to act like Willow’s life is worth more than the lives of the people the Mayor will kill. Now, at this point, the Scoobies don’t know that they won’t be able to stop the Mayor before he kills anyone else, but they also know that destroying the box will guarantee that the Mayor’s plans fail, and it’s their only lead. They just bought Willow’s life for the price of Snyder, Larry, Harmony, and all the unnamed people who get killed in “Graduation Day: Part 2.” I love Willow, and I love the final battle with the Mayor, but the cost is heavy. But I’m not saying that the episode is bad because of this. It actually works, but mainly because the writing makes it clear that trading the box for Willow isn’t a completely morally sound decision. They don’t try to play it like Wesley was evil and wrong to suggest destroying the box. And whether or not to trade the box for Willow is only one of several choices that give this episode its title. There’s also Buffy’s choice about college. At first, it doesn’t seem like she really has a choice, but in the end, she decides on her own (if with a reasonable amount of bitterness) to stay in Sunnydale. There’s the unsustainable situation between Buffy and Angel, which will require at least one of them to make a decision soon. There’s Willow’s choices. The first one is should she try to escape or try to dig up dirt on the Mayor? Which is a parallel to the Plot B choice: should she go to a fabulous Ivy League university, or should she stay in Sunnydale so she can keep fighting evil? So even though the Scoobies get into some uncomfortable moral territory, “Choices” is a well-written episode with nicely unified themes and character arcs. It seems like, on the whole, each character is willing to sacrifice their own chances for normal futures, but they’re not willing to sacrifice each other for anything.
Whenever Buffy feels like she’s being forced to do something, she balks. Which is why she suddenly decides she wants to go out of state for college. But once she sees for herself why it’s important to stay in Sunnydale, she finds she’s too responsible to just leave that for someone else to deal with. But she’s definitely avoiding dealing with the problems in her relationship with Angel. This would’ve been a good time for them to actually talk about what she wants for her future and how he can be part of that. Instead, she just brushes the Mayor’s comments aside.
I really love Willow in this one. Nobody expects her to stay in Sunnydale for college. They all think she’ll take that genius brain of her off to Harvard or Oxford and win a Nobel Peace Prize before she’s thirty, or something. But she turns her back on that kind of brilliant future, because she knows what’s more important. Also, she handles herself amazingly well when she’s a hostage. I absolutely love seeing her stand up to Faith (who is definitely not as convinced that she made the right call as she wants everyone to think). She just seems so at peace with her decisions. It’s very impressive.
I wish I knew for sure if Xander isn’t planning on college because he couldn’t get in or just because he doesn’t want to. The end result might seem like the same thing either way, but that’s vital information about his attitude. Does he lack the confidence to apply to college with the grades he has? Does he not want to go because graduating high school is plenty of school for him, thank you very much? Or did he try to get in, only to receive rejection letters? Options A and C are recipes for him to feel depressed and bitter while his two best friends begin their college careers, but option B is much more self-possessed. It’s frustrating not knowing for sure what happened. All we know is that he’s planning a road trip. And why can’t he just leave Cordelia alone? Does it not occur to him that maybe she’s only trying to make everyone else miserable because she’s not doing so great herself? And that it would be very insensitive of him to give her even more to deal with? Seriously, after the way their relationship ended, he should not at any point feel like he can give her crap.
That being said, it’s really not okay for Cordelia to try to make herself feel better by making everyone else feel worse. Maybe if she went to them for support, they’d give it. They’re good people. They would totally give her support. And then everyone would be better off, and nobody would be smarting from uncalled-for insults. I like that we’re still not entirely sure what’s going on yet, though. This is a nice, subtle subplot that will build into a pretty solid setup for her being on Angel.
Giles is so proud of Buffy for getting into Northwestern. Could that man get any more endearing? Gah. I can’t stand it. (I’m kidding. Please give me more Proud Dad Giles every episode forever. I might die of the adorbs, but I will most certainly die happy.)
Even though I don’t entirely agree with the Scoobies’ decision to choose Willow over the Mayor’s potential future victims, I love the little nod between Buffy and Oz when he destroys the spell. The only reason he’s even part of the Scoobies and in the fight against evil is to keep Willow safe. He’s not going to let that fight kill her, consequences be damned.
Angel really feels like part of the group again (or maybe for the first time). He patrols with Buffy, he participates in the heist, and he’s there for the trade. Nobody’s giving him weird looks or acting like he doesn’t belong there. It’s like he earned the right to be there because of what he did in “Enemies,” or else the reminder of how different Angel is from Angelus shattered any remaining reservations the other characters might’ve had about him. Making Angel more of a member of the group wasn’t something they needed to do at this point. They knew he was going to be leaving. This is just going to make it hurt more. Rude.
“We bohemian anti-establishment types have always been persecuted.”
“Well, sure, you’re all so weird.”
“You killed him!”
“What are you, the narrator?”
“Let’s synchronize our watches. I have 21:4—”
*Buffy and Willow hold up bare wrists*
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.