Written by Marti Noxon
Directed by David Solomon
Buffy and Angel are cuddling in his bed at the mansion. Apparently they’ve spent the whole night this way. He’s watching her sleep with a very affectionate expression. She has quite the rat’s nest in her hair. She’s about to get up and fix her hair, but he reminds her that there aren’t any mirrors there, so she snuggles back up to him. She tentatively broaches the subject of maybe moving some of her stuff into his place and making it generally more Buffy-friendly. He seems fine with that, if not fully engaged in the conversation. Then the subject of the prom comes up, and he seems slightly less enthused. He thinks it might be time for her to head home, and she goes to check if the sun’s up by opening the heavy black curtains. The sun is definitely up, and the blinding beam of sunlight falls directly on the bed, forcing Angel to leap up and dive into the corner of the room. Oops.
Xander’s walking into school when Anya catches up to him. They review the exposition about her backstory for any audience members who haven’t been paying attention. As much as Anya hates men after eleven centuries of inflicting horrible revenges on them on behalf of scorned women, she still wants to go to the prom for some reason. She feels Xander is the least obnoxious of the school’s alpha males. Um. In what way is Xander an alpha male? He has no male friends. The only guys he associates with (Oz, Giles, and Angel) only associate with him because of their connections to his two female friends, and they’re all way more alpha than him. He is definitely the omega of the Scoobies. Is it just Anya’s skewed perspective that makes Xander look like an alpha to her? And why would she even like Xander when she spent so much time as Cordelia’s friend? Bah, whatever. Xander is as baffled by her interest in him as I am, but he ultimately accepts her prom offer, since he doesn’t exactly have any other choice but to go solo.
The other Scoobies are also baffled by the Xander/Anya prom scenario, but since Anya as an ex-demon will hardly be the most unusual member of the group, they don’t argue against it. Buffy is excited about her dress, and she’s excited for Angel to see her in it.
At the mansion, Angel finds a notebook Buffy left there. It has a “Buffy & Angel 4ever!” doodle on it. Can I just assume she drew that when she was sixteen, before they were really dating? Because Buffy has seemed way too mature to spell forever with a 4 for a long time. Someone knocks on the door. It’s Joyce. She’s here to make intensely awkward small talk and then to do an encore of the Mayor’s arguments against Buffy and Angel’s relationship. She doesn’t think Buffy is capable of being objective enough to make a mature decision, so she tells Angel that might have to be up to him. I really don’t appreciate all these people manipulating Angel’s guilt complex. He does that quite well enough on his own, thank you. I’m sure he would have come to the same conclusion before long, but he probably would’ve approached it better if he hadn’t felt so pressured.
Buffy and Willow are discussing prom dresses with very bizarre wording in order to force a joke. I have never heard anyone say “arms” when they meant “sleeves.” So who can blame Giles for thinking they’re talking about demons? He thinks they should probably be focusing on Ascension research. Wesley agrees. Also, he’s going to tag along to prom so that he can help Giles chaperone. No other reason. He definitely doesn’t want to dance with Cordelia. Who doesn’t want anyone going to April Fool’s, because that’s where she works. *cough* I mean, that’s where she shops, and she doesn’t want them tainting it. Giles is annoyed that everyone’s focusing on prom instead of the Mayor, but Buffy thinks they deserve a night of fun with something so scary looming ahead.
But that night of fun might be harder to obtain than she thinks. In a crappy house somewhere presumably nearby, a creepy goblin-looking monster thing is thrashing around in its cage.
At an ornate cathedral, Buffy and Angel are getting married! And they both look so happy. So…dream sequence?
As they head back out of the church hand-in-hand, the music turns ominous. When they step out into the sunlight, it’s Buffy who catches fire instead of Angel. Not dream sequence, then. Nightmare sequence. Angel wakes up, breathing hard.
Buffy and Angel’s patrol leads them into the sewer. Buffy wants to talk about prom stuff, but Angel thinks they should focus on hunting vampires. The vampire in question shows up, and Buffy stakes him irritably so that she can continue her conversation with Angel. He seems to be avoiding the prom subject, and she’s annoyed. He seems hesitant to talk about what’s on his mind, but she keeps pushing until he drops the “we need to talk” line. Uh oh. She pushes some more, and he admits that he feels like their relationship isn’t fair to her. She deserves more than he can offer. Someone who can take her in the sunlight, make love to her, give her children, and grow old with her. He looks like he’s close to tears saying it. She’s definitely close to tears. She doesn’t care about any of that stuff; she just wants Angel. He makes the same mistake he’s made in the past, of implying that she’s too young to make rational grown-up decisions about her personal life, and she does the thing she’s done in the past where she lashes out about him being a vampire. Then she says she wants her life to be with him. He says “I don’t.” Which she thinks means he doesn’t want to be with her. Of course he wants to be with her, but this isn’t about doing what he wants. Thanks to his stupid curse, doing what he wants is pretty much always a bad idea. It’s about trying to do the right thing. He doesn’t correct her, though, because as much as he doesn’t want to hurt her, it’ll probably be easier for her to let him go if he does. Even though he just broke up with her, she doesn’t think she can stay away from him. He knows that; he’s planning to leave after the fight against the Mayor and Faith is over.
Buffy sits on the roof outside her bedroom window, very sad. Angel stands by the hearth in the mansion alone, brooding. The next day, Buffy’s telling Willow about the breakup. Willow tries to vilify Angel, but that’s not what Buffy needs. As much as it hurts, Buffy knows Angel’s right. So does Willow. There’s nothing Buffy can do except hurt. (What? I’m not crying, you’re crying!)
Meanwhile, at that crappy house, the creepy goblin thing is being so rowdy in its cage that it finally breaks out.
Xander spots Cordelia once again admiring that sparkly black dress, so he comes in to be obnoxious some more. One of Cordelia’s co-workers, not realizing that Cordelia was trying to hide the fact that she works there, tells her she should probably stop chatting and get back to work, since their boss doesn’t like her. Cut to their boss, who glares over at her. Xander finally realizes that Cordelia works there. He doesn’t get it. Isn’t Cordelia rich? Actually, no. Her dad’s been caught committing tax evasion for over a decade, so the government has taken everything they own and he’s probably in prison. Cordelia is basically broke and homeless now. She can’t go to college, and she’s working part-time to try to afford a prom dress. So wait, where’s her mom? Is she still bedridden from Epstein-Barr, like Cordelia mentioned in “The Harvest”? Or does what she said about her in “Band Candy” and “Gingerbread” mean that she’s recovered? Are they stuck in a crappy apartment together, her mom working a minimum wage job to keep them fed and clothed? Xander feels like a heel for giving Cordelia such a hard time when she’s already having a hard time. He starts to maybe apologize, but this triggers more of Cordelia’s bitter ranting.
The goblin thing breaks into the store. Xander pushes Cordelia to safety and tries to go up against the thing unarmed, but instead, it targets a dude in a tux. Then it’s about to attack some more people when a shifty guy with some kind of remote control device does something, and it scampers away instead.
At the library, the Scoobies review the security footage from the dress shop. Cordelia notes that the monster seemed oddly focused on formal wear. Everyone thinks she’s being ridiculous, but she does seem to have a point. Buffy isn’t super interested in studying the footage, because she’s still miserable. Wesley thinks the creature is a hellhound. What, seriously? Man, if that thing is a hellhound, then we got just as gypped as we did with werewolves. If you're going to call your monster a hellhound, then I want to see something like this:
Dudes in hairy rubber goblin suits awkwardly scampering around on all fours are not scary enough to deserve the label "hellhounds."
Anyway, Wesley attempts to casually ask why Cordelia was with Xander. Cordelia tenses; she thinks he’s going to spill her shameful secret and that everyone will have a good gloat over her downfall. But he doesn’t. He lies and says she was out spending her dad’s money as usual, and they just happened to bump into each other because he was looking for a tux. They spot the guy controlling the hellhound on the tape, and somehow they manage to go from this blurry image:
to being able to pick him out in a yearbook. Tucker Wells. Remember that name. It won’t be as important later as it should have been.
With facial recognition skills like that, they should all join a CSI team. Xander notices that Buffy has been sitting by herself on the stairs for a long time, not speaking. She continues doing that. Willow hacks into Tucker’s email and finds one he sent to some kid named David Metz. (Another name that could’ve been more important.) He’s planning to attack the prom using his hellhounds trained to attack people in tuxes and fancy dresses. The Scoobies start talking like this means they can’t do prom. Buffy snaps out of her funk, determined to save the prom for them at any cost. They’re a little alarmed by her vehemence, but they accept her assignments without complaint. Wesley and Cordelia go to check out Tucker’s house. Oz and Willow track down David Metz. Xander will check the magic shop about supplies to raise hellhounds. Buffy herself will go to the meat packing plant to see if anyone’s been buying brains to feed the hellhounds.
When she’s there, she spots Angel buying blood. He sees her. It’s very uncomfortable. She’s still a bit in lash out/guilt trip mode. He wants to help; she doesn’t want his help. Then she feels bad for making him feel bad, thanks him for his offer, and leaves.
At the dress shop, Cordelia’s co-worker hands her the dress she’s been admiring, which has inexplicably been paid for. We don’t see the name on the receipt, but it stuns Cordelia into silence. So…Xander.
At the library, nobody has succeeded in their assignments. But since Buffy did, they can still go to prom and have fun. They don’t want to let her do it all by herself, but she’s so insistent that they leave to go get ready for the dance. Giles tells her he thinks she’s being a little rash. She argues with enough bitterness that he realizes Angel must not be taking her to the dance. She tells him about the breakup and Angel’s plans to leave. Giles says he’s sorry and offers ice cream, but he looks a little relieved. Buffy will have ice cream after she’s killed some hellhounds.
At the dance, Anya is regaling Xander with tales of vengeance. Wesley is enjoying hors d’ouvres and reminiscing about going to an all-boys’ school, which meant they didn’t really do dances. Cordelia walks in, looking very good (and happy) in that dress, and Wesley nearly chokes on his chip at the sight of her. Giles does a flat stare when he sees where Wesley is looking. Willow and Oz come in, looking adorable. Wesley goes to compliment Cordelia, and then she takes his arm. Xander begs them to monopolize the conversation so that Anya can’t keep doing it. She thanks him for the dress. It’s sweet. I think they might be over their issues. There won’t be any bitterness left when they go their separate ways after graduation. Jonathan walks in with a pretty girl on his arm. Way to bounce back, Jonathan. No sign of Buffy yet.
That would be because she’s at Tucker’s house. She subdues him. He tries to fight back, but he’s pretty much a wimp, so it doesn’t do him any good. He’s doing this because he got rejected by a girl he asked to the prom. Buffy thinks she’s won, but then she sees the three empty cages in the other room. She chases them down and shoots one of them, but the other two stop chasing her when they hear “Celebration” start playing in the school. She catches up to them in time to kill another, and then she breaks the third one’s neck before it can attack a guy in a tux.
She drags all three dead hellhounds into the underbrush, then pulls her dress out of her weapons bag and goes to change. She walks into the prom in her dress and nods at Giles to confirm that all is well.
It’s time for the prom awards. Xander is not the class clown, to his annoyance. Then the announcer calls Jonathan up to read a special award. It’s for Buffy. Class Protector. Aww, I’m gonna cry again. Thanks to Buffy, Sunnydale High Class of 1999 has the lowest mortality rate in Sunnydale history. (Ouch.) They may not have interacted much with Buffy in class, but they all seem to know that they owe her their lives. That’s the most heartwarming thing ever. Buffy is so touched. She accepts the award, which is a sparkly gold parasol. Everyone cheers for her.
The dancing resumes. Wesley has an urgent question for Giles. Before he can spit it out, Giles loses all patience and tells him to just go ask Cordelia to dance already. He does so. Xander and Anya are having a surprisingly nice time together. Giles finds Buffy so they can marvel about the Class Protector award. Then he takes the parasol. She looks around and sees that Angel is there in a tux. He wants to at least give her that one perfect high school moment she wanted. She greatly appreciates it. They dance together. Perfect high school moment or not, it’s very bittersweet (at least in part because the song is “Wild Horses”).
“The Prom” is a rough episode, particularly if you’re a die-hard Buffy/Angel shipper like me. And, like “Homecoming,” it can be a weird episode if you never cared about school dances, or even dating in high school, for that matter. I didn’t understand why people made such a big deal about prom when I was in high school, and I still don’t get the appeal. The music is annoying and way too loud and you have to pay a ridiculous amount of money for a dress you’ll only wear once. Yay? But I’m someone who’s very comfortable with being asocial, and my life has been pretty normal. Buffy is someone whose life is anything but normal, so I won’t begrudge her for caring so much about checking off her high school milestones. The extremely lame hellhounds got me wondering, though. Would Buffy the Vampire Slayer have been better or worse if it had had the same kinds of monsters we get in Supernatural? Are the silly-looking monsters a critical piece of the Buffyverse puzzle, or would it have been an improvement if we’d gotten horror elements that are genuinely scary on a more regular basis? It’s such a character-driven show that the monsters themselves might not actually need to be genuinely frightening. What matters most is how the characters react to them and how well function as metaphors. Food for thought. The metaphor of the week is people who can’t handle rejection well. Since Buffy is the only major character who got dumped, does that mean she’s the parallel for Tucker? She gets dumped, and her reaction is to try even harder than usual to save the day. He gets turned down for the prom, and his reaction is to try to destroy everything. *shrug* Now that I think about it, “The Prom” is a lot like “Out of Mind, Out of Sight.” It’s a pre-finale episode that is only about 3% related to the main villain arc, it involves a school dance, and the villain is someone whose high school social life didn’t go the way they wanted to, so now they’re lashing out horrifically. Interesting. Maybe they should’ve done something like that in S2 instead of “Go Fish.” “I Only Have Eyes for You” is sort of that. And we can pretty much skip “Go Fish” without changing anything. So yeah, let’s do that.
For all that the Mayor, Joyce, and even, to an extent, Angel himself seem to think that Buffy isn’t capable of making level-headed, grown-up decisions, she actually handles the break-up with Angel pretty well. Yes, she does the lashing out thing, and she cries so hard she can’t breathe, but she can see the logic behind Angel’s decision. Due to circumstances neither of them can control, their relationship is not something that will work long-term. At least, that’s how the writers are trying to present it. I’m not sure I’m convinced. Yes, as a vampire, Angel can’t give her children or go into the sunlight with her. But I’ve never seen “inability to have sunlit picnics” on anyone’s list of deal-breakers, and since Buffy is the Slayer, she’s already living with a semi-nocturnal schedule anyway. And I know I definitely want kids, but isn’t it up to Buffy to decide if she wants them (or feels ready to have them)? Angel breaking up with her now because he won’t be able to give her the children she might eventually want years in the future doesn’t make a lot of sense. The simple fact of him being a vampire and her being the Slayer isn’t a good reason for them to break up either. His being a vampire is, in many ways, an advantage. It makes him the only one who can help her on her patrols without being a liability to her. It actually ups her own chances of survival, particularly because they’re so good at fighting as a team. Most importantly, it’s a big part of why they understand each other so well. Human guys, as we will receive ample evidence of in seasons four and five, aren’t generally very good at showing the kind of understanding Buffy wants from her man. Really, the only legitimate reason Buffy and Angel can’t be together is his curse. I don’t think Buffy would be happy forever in a relationship that can never get fully physical, and because Angel wants her to be happy, he hates being the reason she can’t have a relationship like that. Also, being with her makes him happy, and he’s not allowed to be happy. It’s like Buffy and Angel’s problem is that they’re too perfect for each other. Which is so beyond unfair, and it brings me back to one of the things that annoys me most about the Buffyverse (or at least about the writing of it). Why do all of the characters just accept Angel’s curse the way it is? “Enemies” proves that there are multiple ways to remove a soul; why can’t there be multiple ways to restore one? Ways that don’t involve happiness clauses? It’s a grievous oversight that this topic never gets discussed at all.
Willow continues to be a wonderful best friend. I love that she doesn’t try so hard to help Buffy feel better quickly or anything. She just lets Buffy cry on her and then she makes sure nobody else gives Buffy a hard time when they’re working on the hellhound problem in the library. And she and Oz are, of course, super cute at the prom.
Finally! Good guy Xander is back. I guess he was only slinging insults at Cordelia because he felt that she had more power than him and it was his only weapon. Not very classy of him, but he knocks it off immediately when he sees how much she’s going through. And him paying for Cordelia’s dress is probably my favorite thing he’s done in the entire series so far. After that, he doesn’t even expect her to dance with him, and he isn’t upset or jealous to see her dancing with Wesley. It’s just the best way to apologize to her for everything so that they can part on good terms. (And now that I think about it, this isn’t the only time that buying clothes for Cordelia will prove to be the most effective way of winning back her good opinion. Nice.)
Cordelia really has been through the wringer, hasn’t she? Heart broken, impaled by rebar, bitten on the face by a snake, life threatened in a Plot A way at least twenty-two times, and now she’s gone from riches to rags. She’s remarkably strong to be able to go through all of that and still show up to Scooby meetings to flirt with Wesley. Other times I’ve watched these shows, I’ve usually been pretty “meh” about Cordelia, but now that I’ve actually paid attention to how much she’s had to deal with, I think I’m actually excited to follow her over onto Angel.
Oz once again has very little to do, but I really like his absolute confidence in Buffy when he and Willow walk into the dance. She’s inclined to feel slightly nervous, knowing there are hellhounds out there, but he’s not worried at all. That’s kind of awesome.
Giles is still wonderful. And he’s the only grown-up who isn’t trying to be stern and logical about Buffy and Angel’s relationship. He trusts Buffy’s judgment. I think he might be slightly surprised that Angel would make such a difficult, responsible decision, but I’m glad he wasn’t one of the ones pushing him towards it.
I’ve mostly covered Angel already, but I could probably say more. As much as I disagree with some of his reasons for breaking up with Buffy, it’s so obvious that he’s hurting just as badly as she is that I’ve never been able to be mad at him about it. I’m tearing up again just thinking about it. More than anything in the world, he wishes he could be the man who can give Buffy the normal human things she wants. That’s why he dreams of marrying her, but then it turns into a nightmare where she dies. He’s always so hard on himself that he can’t see the things that he is uniquely qualified to offer her. I’ve mentioned the confidant thing a few times, and I really mean that. Buffy opens up for very few people, and Angel is one of them. She never finds another person she can talk to the same way. He makes her feel safe enough that she can make herself emotionally vulnerable without feeling ashamed. And, like I said in her section of the character analysis, he’s her best partner in the battlefield. Buffy and Angel’s team-fighting looks even more natural and instinctive than Buffy and Faith’s does (and I mean on the good days, when Faith wasn’t leaping into a fight without planning first). I think the reason everything came crashing down in this episode in particular is that the prom effectively represents all the ways Angel is separate from normal human things. He’s not and has never been a high school student. He doesn’t even look young enough to be a high school student (as long as we’re ignoring the fact that Nick Brendon, Charisma Carpenter, and the vast majority of the extras were also way too old to be convincing high school students in S3). He’s done what Whistler sent him to Buffy for anyway: he protected her and helped her while she was a new Slayer. Now she’s strong enough to handle her calling without him there, and he’s invested enough in the good fight to continue it without her.
“Look! Right there! Zoom in on that.”
“…It’s a videotape.”
“So? They do it on television all the time.”
“Not with a regular VCR, they don’t.”
“For God’s sake, man, she’s eighteen. And you have the emotional maturity of a blueberry scone. Just have at it, would you, and stop fluttering about?”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.