“Graduation Day: Part 1”
Written by Joss Whedon
Directed by Joss Whedon
It’s time for the seniors to pick up their graduation packets. Cordelia is dismayed that they have maroon gowns instead of teal. (Aren’t their colors red and yellow? Why would they do maroon or teal?) Xander feels a sense of impending doom. He thinks he’s going to die before he graduates. Cordelia is kind of shocked by his pessimism. Willow is getting her yearbook signed by everyone, including Harmony, despite their mutual loathing of each other. She just has a massive case of high school nostalgia. Which Buffy doesn’t quite get. She’s not feeling the value of the graduation rite of passage. Also she thinks she’ll have to go deal with the Ascension elsewhere. But Xander brings the news that the Mayor is their commencement speaker.
An old-ish man gets a knock on his apartment door. His guest is Faith. He’s a professor of some kind. Faith is there to kill him on the Mayor’s orders. She does so. The camera slowly pans over to a framed painting of a volcano. Hmm, what’s that about?
The Mayor is straightening things up at Faith’s spiffy apartment while she changes into a…pink…dress he bought her. She’s as uncomfortable wearing it as I am looking at her in it, but he thinks she looks precious. He tells her that the Ascension is a day for her too, and then he tells her to go change into her normal clothes so he can go spoil her some more. She’s delighted.
Willow is riding a bike to school, and Percy catches up to her to show her his history final. He appreciates all the help she’s given him and that she’s refrained from beating him up again. As glad as he is to have passed, he mostly just wants to graduate so he can purge everything he learned at school out of his head. Willow’s kind of annoyed, and Oz’s sardonic wit doesn’t help. She recruits his help to look up spells to thwart the Ascension.
Xander comes in late to his history class. Same teacher who was in “I Only Have Eyes for You” and briefly appeared in “Anne.” Nice. He gives a big lecture on how this is still a class and everyone has to participate. In this game of hangman he’s just started on the board. Haaaa, seems like a fun teacher. Anya is sitting next to Xander, and she wants to go out with him again. Her social skills are still rather iffy, and he’s not very enthusiastic about the prospect of spending more time with him. He’s a little too insulting about it, but when he realizes he hurt her feelings, he pulls it back and apologizes. Hmm. I’m suddenly on Team Anya. Go out with her, Xander. She’s clearly good for you. He offers to go out with her again if he manages to survive the Ascension. Her expression turns fearful.
Buffy is a master of forensics and has determined from the newspaper article about the Professor’s murder that Faith is the one who did it. (Um. How? Murder by stabbing isn’t very specific, as modus operandi go.) Giles and Wesley are fencing. Wesley presents so little of a threat that Giles can fence him while holding and reading the newspaper article. Giles and Buffy think that the professor must’ve known something important for him to have Faith kill her. Wesley comes to that conclusion slightly late, and he orders her to go investigate. Xander brings Anya to the library to share her first-person account of an Ascension eight hundred years ago. An Ascension is where a human turns into a pure demon, which is waaay bigger and more powerful than anything Buffy’s fought before. The one Anya saw wiped out an entire village in hours.
Snyder is showing the Mayor the setup for graduation. The Mayor congratulates Snyder on how well he’s handled the school.
Willow and Oz join the discussion in the library. Anya doesn’t think the Mayor is doing the same rituals that the sorcerer eight hundred years ago did. Then the Mayor just waltzes right into the library. It’s horrifying. The season Big Bad has never been inside the library before (unless you count the Master dying there). It feels deeply wrong. The Scoobies and the music seem to agree. Buffy hides the article about the professor’s murder. He takes a look at their books, and then he tells Giles he’s going to eat Buffy. Giles takes it well:
The Mayor is invulnerable, so this is merely an inconvenience for him. He thinks Giles should set a better example for the impressionable youth present.
Anya is ready to head for the hills. She thinks there’s no way they can beat the Mayor, so she wants to get as far away from Sunnydale as possible. Xander tries to stop her, but has little success. Cordelia comes by, and they both decide to skip their next class.
Joyce gets home to find Buffy packing her things. Joyce’s things, that is. She’s sending Buffy out of town until after graduation. Joyce really wants to go to it, but Buffy wants to keep her safe. Joyce doesn’t want to leave her to fight a monster, but Buffy assures her that this is what she’s good at, and she can’t worry about Joyce’s safety at the same time.
Amy the rat is chilling in her Habitrail in Willow’s room. Willow isn’t finding anything that will help with the Ascension. She feels she shouldn’t even have bothered trying, because she can’t do so much as turn Amy human again. Oz makes more witty comments, and Willow has had enough of witty comments. She’s close to panicking and she wants him to show emotions appropriate to the situation. She starts going on a mindless ramble about her fear, and he kisses her. This is a form of panic from him that she’s willing to accept.
At the professor’s apartment, Buffy’s looking through his books when Angel shows up. Giles sent him to back her up, just in case Faith shows up. Angel tries to be all gentlemanly and helpful, but Buffy doesn’t particularly like him doing that if he’s not going to also be her boyfriend. Ooh, pretty double-breasted periwinkle peacoat.
Buffy tells Angel that she’s annoyed at him for being around both too little and too much. Thanks to the way she phrases it, he’s just confused. They start arguing, until Angel suddenly gets an arrow through the chest. Faith. She deliberately missed hitting his heart. That’s ominous.
At the library, Giles helps Buffy remove the arrow and dress the wound. Buffy already suspects Faith. (Much less of a logical leap than when she suspected Faith of killing the professor.) Wesley is looking at the stuff Buffy got from the professor’s apartment. Apparently, he found the skeleton of what seemed like an unknown species of dinosaur while excavating a lava bed. So it looks like the Mayor will be vulnerable again once he becomes this kind of demon. Buffy helps Angel to his feet, only for him to immediately topple over. The arrow was poisoned. Wesley offers to contact the Council.
Articles of clothing are scattered all over Willow’s room, and she and Oz are cuddled together under the covers. She does a cute babble while he strokes her hair. They kiss, but then the phone rings.
Faith reports about shooting angel to the Mayor. His next step is eating some of the creepy crawlies inside the box from “Choices.” He unwittingly calls Faith a firecracker, which is the same thing her mom called her when she was little. She tells him about how she was way braver than all the other kids. She wants him to give her another assignment, because she’s too wired to sleep.
Willow sends Xander to the magic shop for supplies that will help figuring out what the poison is. Anya intercepts him on his way out. She wants him to flee with her. It’s kind of Xander’s version of Willow’s decision to stay in the fight in “Choices.” He doesn’t have a sacred calling like Buffy and he doesn’t have any essential skills like most of the other Scoobies, but he’s going to stay and fight anyway.
Buffy has moved Angel to his bed at the mansion, and she’s dispensed with his shirt. He’s all sweaty and sick, though, so his torso isn’t quite as appealing as it usually is. Wesley comes with bad news. The Council isn’t interested in helping a vampire, soul or no. Buffy decides that if the Council won’t help her, then she’s done helping them. She won’t take orders from them (or, by extension, Wesley) anymore. Giles is on her side. Wesley points out that this whole thing with Angel is just to distract her from the Mayor; she can’t let it succeed. Buffy plans on saving Angel and stopping the Mayor, thanks. Wesley has now lost both the Slayers in his charge, and it’s clear that he feels powerless and ineffective.
Willow has successfully discovered the identity of the poison, but she, Oz, and Xander are still working on finding the cure. Oz finds it. The cure for this poison, which is called Killer of the Dead, is the blood of a Slayer. Everyone but Buffy thinks this is bad news. Buffy thinks she’ll just bring Angel Faith. She’s willing to kill Faith if that’s what it takes. Willow and Oz use their combined computer hacking skills to find Faith’s new address, and they’re still in a bubble of afterglow from their night together. Xander is worried that if Buffy kills Faith, it’ll mess her up, but Buffy is determined. The only weapon she takes with her is the fancy knife Faith left behind at the school in “Choices.”
They find the address, and Buffy shows up at Faith’s place. Faith is all proud of what she’s done to Angel. She tries not to look as disturbed as she is when Buffy tells her that her blood is Angel’s cure. Faith’s kind of impressed that Buffy’s prepared to do something so dark. They fight. It’s the single longest, most brutal hand-to-hand fight in the entire series so far. Eventually, it takes them onto the rooftop outside Faith’s window (after they crash through it). Buffy cuffs herself to Faith so that Faith can’t run.
Halfway through the fight, we cut to Angel, who is sleeping rather fitfully, watched over by a concerned Willow and Oz. At the library, Giles has finally found a record of the demon they’re looking for. The demon the Mayor will turn into. There’s an illustration that has to be folded out three times to show the whole thing. Holy crap.
The Mayor finishes eating his gourmet dinner of creepy crawlies. A vamp minion shows up with news that something’s going down at Faith’s place.
With that, we return to the fight. Faith manages to bust the cuffs, and the fight upgrades to weapons. Faith grabs…a dirty PVC pipe, and Buffy pulls out the dagger. Faith is about to throw Buffy off the roof when Buffy stabs her in the gut with the knife. Faith punches her, then falls backward onto the bed of a truck. Now, even though Buffy won, she won’t be able to use Faith’s blood to heal Angel. Buffy watches the truck drive away in horror.
It’s difficult to talk about “Graduation Day: Part 1” without its other half. I might actually like “Graduation Day” (both halves) more than I like “Becoming.” They’re both excellent two-part finales to very good seasons. The pacing is great. We get scenes of most of the students going about their pre-graduation routine as usual while the Scoobies find out exactly what they’re up against and how difficult it’s going to be to fight. Alongside that, we get Faith murdering the old professor, and then using the ensuing investigation to neutralize Angel. All of the sub-plots are remarkably isolated for how big the Plot A problem is. Willow and Oz have their own subplot, and it doesn’t really overlap with anyone else’s. Xander and Anya are the same way. All these threads are moving without it harming the cohesiveness of the episode. And the scene where the Mayor strolls casually into the library is just so chilling. It gave us something that’s been missing from the threat the Mayor has posed all season: a personal sense of menace. He isn’t just planning to kill the Scoobies because they’re in Sunnydale anymore; now he’s planning to kill them because he wants them dead. And the fracture between Buffy and Faith has finally reached the point of no return. The stakes are just where we want them to be for Part 2.
It takes a lot to get a girl as compassionate as Buffy to completely give up on someone. We saw that in “Lie to Me” with Ford. Heck, it took her seven episodes to be able to fight Angelus with actual intent to kill. So it was going to take something huge and personal for her to lose that last speck of sisterly concern for Faith and be willing to treat her like a threat to be eliminated. Very few things are as effective at producing that result with her as threatening Angel’s life, even if they’re not still together. I don’t really see why everyone else is so worried about Buffy if she fights Faith to the death. None of them seems to think Faith might win the fight; they just think it’ll be bad for Buffy. But what else are they supposed to do about Faith? Let her run amuck? Even if they didn’t know about the guy with the snake tattoo she killed in “Choices,” now that she’s killed the professor, they know she’s gone from accidental manslaughter to murdering humans on purpose. They also know the police are no match for her. That leaves Buffy, and lethal force is pretty much the only option.
Once Angel is off on his own show, Giles will officially be my favorite character. I’m already certain of it. Wesley has been such a useful foil for him since he showed up. As much as I also love Wesley, having him there has helped to highlight the many awesome things about Giles. When he stabs the Mayor out of sheer protective rage, it may just be one of his coolest moments. There very much needed to be a moment where Buffy’s father figure squared off against Faith’s father figure, and it couldn’t have been any better than what we got. It’s not really a surprise when he sides with Buffy over Wesley and the Council. He already made that choice in “Helpless.”
The way Xander behaves with Anya makes me think he might actually be able to earn my approval after all. The way he apologizes when he sees that he’s hurt her feelings is—I mean, has that ever happened before? I think he learned something very important when he saw that behind Cordelia’s increased unpleasantness was her sudden poverty. He may have realized that he shouldn’t always assume that rude people deserve rudeness in return. He may not be very interested in Anya yet, but he’s remarkably considerate of her. And then, because this is a Joss Whedon show, just when they’ve started making progress, he has to reject her offer to flee so that he can stay to risk his life in a battle instead. I don't think there was ever a question of his staying, but he did spend the first half of the episode being paranoid about his impending death, so this is an especially courageous way for him to snap out of it. Yeah, this is my favorite Xander. He’s even much better than I would have expected about Angel’s situation. He doesn’t stir up unpleasantness by saying “who cares; let him die,” something that the Xander of just a few months ago probably would have done. He doesn’t even stop Buffy from going to kill Faith on Angel’s behalf, he just wants to make sure she’ll still be Buffy after she does it.
Willow is so cute with her nostalgia for the school, and then with her panic about the Ascension. And her and Oz’s first time together played out exactly how he hoped it would back in “Amends.” Maybe end-of-the-world-panic isn’t the best reason for people to sleep together, but it certainly seems to have helped with Willow’s anxiety. In fact, she’s the only one out of the main three kids whose first experience with sex was positive all the way to the morning after and beyond. She and Oz are still together and even closer than before. They’re even the ones who solve everything in the “Angel has been poisoned” subplot. Just when Buffy/Angel falls apart, Willow/Oz becomes stronger than ever. Which is how Willow and Oz have been from the start. They first started dating right when Angel lost his soul. I would probably like that kind of parallelism a lot better if it didn’t always force me to choose between my two favorite ships.
Cordelia has very little to do, but even though she and Xander snark at each other a bit, it has none of the venom it once had, which confirms my suspicions that him buying her that dress has healed the damage between them and enabled them both to move on amicably.
Angel still wants to do what he can to make sure the Ascension doesn’t succeed, but he underestimates how much Buffy still hurts over their breakup. He’s the one who made the decision to end the relationship; he’s slightly better than Buffy at focusing on what needs to be done instead of on his feelings. But that doesn’t mean his feelings aren’t there, which is why he reacts the way he does when Buffy implies that it’s not nearly as hard for him to work with her now as it is for her to work with him.
“When I think that something could happen to you, it feels bad inside. Like I might vomit.”
“Welcome to the world of romance.”
“It’s horrible! No wonder I used to get so much work.”
“We don’t knock during dark rituals?”
The Watcher's Diary
In this blog, I'll be reviewing, analyzing, and generally fangirling over excellent television. Exhibit A: the Whedonverse.