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Stew’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer Retrospective: Season 3, Episodes 19 – 20

December 1, 2023 | Posted by Rob Stewart
Buffy the Vampire Slayer 3-19 Image Credit: 20th Century Fox TV

More Bad “The Ascension” Jokes: A BTVS Retrospective, S3 E19-20

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Episode 19

Image Credit: 20th Century Fox TV

We open with Faith and The Mayor, and the latter has given his new protege a gift: a very fancy dagger! He wants her to do him a favor and go to the airport to pick something up for him. She initially balks at such a menial chore, but he lambastes her for her insolence and calls her spoiled. She responds by calling him “sir”.

Fuck ALL THE WAY outta here with that, show.

You can’t establish this character and then just flip her this hard. Early-To-Mid Season Three Faith ain’t calling anyone SIR.

This could all be the long con I initially predicted when Faith showed up to The Mayor looking to become his lackey, but that would render the Fake Angelus episode completely pointless. At this stage, I’m not sure if her Bizzaro Faith characterization is more egregious than that or not.

Anyway, Mayor wants her to go to the airport and pick up something he needs for The Ascen–

Image Credit: WWE

I KEEP TELLING YOU GUYS NO.

The OTHER Ascension.

Buffy’s mom has surprising news: Buffy was accepted to Northwestern! Among many other good schools. So I guess she passed that Chemistry test after all? Never stop with your non-stakes, BTVS. Mom is beaming and calls relatives who live in Illinois.

Willow has been accepted to Oxford, a few other international schools, Harvard, Yale, and other prestigious schools here in the states. Meanwhile, Xander is reading On The Road by my man Jack Kerouac. Cordelia heckles Buffy for not having a future. SHE IS NOT THE VILLAIN HERE, SHOW, AND I WILL NEVER ACCEPT YOUR ATTEMPTS TO MAKE IT SO.

Talking to her Watcher Duo, Buffy is forbidden by Wesley to ever leave SunnyDale, though Giles seems quite proud of her accomplishments getting accepted into colleges. Buffy thinks if they stop The Ascension now, SunnyDale will be safe forever, so she can go away to college. Just like it was safe forever after she toppled The Master!

At the airport, a guy with a badass snake tattooed on his face gets off a plane. He is carrying a box and approaches a limo. The driver reports The Mayor is not there to meet him, but the car will drive him to The Mayor. SnakeFace hates this! The price just went up, he says! Then Faith kills him with her bow-and-arrow, which I am happy to see she learned how to use since her heel turn.

It’s really nice that there isn’t some underground network of people telling each other that if you try to sell this mayor things, he WILL just have you killed and take it. Don’t ne’er-do-wells talk to each other?

Buffy, while scouting The Mayor’s building, sees Faith enter with the box. Inside the office, a gleeful Mayor is so proud of her, he says he wouldn’t even welcome Buffy to his side because Faith is all he would need. Faith doesn’t look best pleased at this. The Mayor says “Oh, did I say the B-word?”. No, you said Buf–OH I GET IT. Clever.

Buffy attacks limo driver instead of following Faith. She then reports back to the team and tells them all about it. It’s The Box Of… something. It’s honestly not important what they call it; they just refer to it as “The Box” for the rest of the episode anyway. And so will I!

Xander sees Cordelia in a dress shop looking at a gown, so he of course goes into insult her. It turns out, she has gotten into several really good schools, too, though. Xander accuses her father of buying her admission to those schools, which is one of those weird things I always just assumed happened in society and we all had to be okay with it until they went HARD at Aunt Becky for it. Which was bollocks, because you know it’s still rampant. #AuntBeckyWasScapegoated # RichPeopleThings

At the mayoral building, the siege is on! Buffy, Angel, and Willow are at the skylight, and Willow disarms the box’s charmed protection with some magic powder, and then bounces. Buffy fucking MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE‘S down to the box on a wire, and I kind of love the abject blatant theft of that scene from a movie that was three years old here. But she STILL sets off an alarm. Vamps attack, but after a scuffle, Buffy and Angel make off with the box!

The Mayor is PISSED, but Faith has some good news: she grabbed a fleeing Willow!

The team has a meeting where they decide they have no choice but to trade the box for Willow’s life. Wesley despises this idea, but you can’t get me to hate him, either! I know he’s a fantastic character in Angel!

The vampire in charge of guarding Willow assaults her and goes in for a bite, but Willow levitates a pencil through his heart. She gets distracted by The Mayor’s Office and finds his Arcane Curio… full of The Books Of Ascension! Instead of, like, TAKING THEM AND RUNNING AWAY, she just sits there and reads them for a bit until Faith finds her. Faith smacks Willow around, but The Mayor stops her from killing their prisoner.

At the school, the team is ready for their deal with The Mayor, but the power gets cut. This… does not ultimately pay off or matter in any regard. We just get a dark scene because the director thought it would look rad, I guess.

The Mayor walks in with his gang and calls Buffy skinny, which… was that a reference to how undersized she was at the time? Like were their tabloids talking about her weight and this show just wrote that shit in as an off-handed bad guy insult? Or am I thinking too hard about this?

Anyway, The Mayor starts sowing discord between Angel and Buffy, referencing how she will age, and he never will. She will resent him! There will never be true happiness! I mean… isn’t that GOOD in Angel’s case? Time for talk being done, the two sides make their trade.

THE PRINCIPAL AND TWO COPS BARGE IN, THINKING A DRUG DEAL IS GOING DOWN. What is going on here?!

I thought Principal knew both what The Mayor was up to AND that supernatural crap is the norm for Hellmouth-ville here, but he is acting completely clueless. One cop opens the box, and a large spider jumps out and eats his face. Principal is bewildered and terrified of this!

Also: why does The Mayor need man-eating spiders for his Ascension? What the heck?

At least one more spider emerges from the box, and all the parties involved work together to kill it. The Mayor tells them there are FIFTY BILLION MORE inside the box, so Buffy closes it. Faith is CLEARLY put off by all of this. One cop is dead, the other has run away. The Mayor and his team take the box and leave. Principal is freaked out and also leaves, wielding a chair to defend himself from more spiders.

Willow copied some pages from The Books Of Ascension and gives them to Giles. Later, she and Buffy are talking colleges. They both have decided SunnyDale needs them, so they are going to UC SunnyDale! Buffy notes that she will have to live on campus because it is too far to commute and again: how big is this town!? Now it has its own university, and spans enough space that it’s a tedious commute from one end to the other?

I demand Joss Whedon provide a map of SunnyDale!

Oh hey, there actually is one. Buffy lives almost in the middle of town. The University is right up the road from Xander’s house. Come on, man.

In our epilogues, we see Cordelia is actually working at the dress shop! And despite their cuddling, Buffy and Angel seem distressed over the mind games The Mayor played on them…

Episode 20

Image Credit: 20th Century Fox TV

Well this episode picks up almost immediately where the last ended: With Angel and Buffy in bed together. Angel is watching her sleep until she wakes up all a-flutter about the upcoming prom! NOT a Spring Fling, guys! This time it’s an honest-to-goodness prom. Angel kind of blows her off. Buffy THROWS OPEN THE CURTAINS AND ALMOST IMMOLATES HER VAMPIRE BOYFRIEND. Like, there’s ONE THING you can’t do, girl. Come on.

At school, Anya approaches Xander. Why haven’t they killed/banished her, by the way? She is still vowing to get her powers back. She says she hates all men, but her teenage body REALLY wants to go to prom, so she asks Xander.

Meanwhile, back at Angel’s lair, Buffy is gone, but Mom is visiting. She is visibly put off by the shackles on Angel’s wall, and I truly hope it’s because she thinks it is a sex thing and not a “out of control vampire” thing. Remember: she knows Angel and Buffy have banged! She talks all around telling him to break up with Buffy without actually saying it. Her rationale is the same as The Mayor’s, weirdly. I mean… the rationale RIGHT, but… still.

Here’s an update on what the team knows about THE ASC…

Ahem. The Ascension.

Are they here? No? Okay!

The Mayor will become a demon, but the tea does not know WHICH demon. Wait, wouldn’t he just be HIM, but as a demon? He will become a pre-existing demon? Why would he want to do that? So he will die, and a demon will just take him over? That’s a shit deal. What is he getting out of this?

Anyway. Cut to: some dog monster being Clockwork Orange’d in a cage.

Angel has a dream of his and Buffy’s wedding day. When they emerge from the chapel into the sun, Buffy erupts into flames and burns to death. It’s a metaphor! For how stupid this drama is.

Later, he and Buffy are out hunting. She brings up prom again, and he shuts her down. They bicker for a bit about it until Angel says The Mayor was right; they can’t be together. Angel says she deserves someone who can make love to her, hahaha. So we are back to confirming his happiness is based on orgasms, and I HATE IT. He calls their relationship a freak show, and Gellar and Boreanaz attempt their best Emmy-caliber dramatic acting. They break up.

Elsewhere: Demon dog breaks free!

Xander sees Cordy at the dress shop again and heads in to tease her some more, but an employee there quickly spills Cordy’s beans. Cordelia tells Xander her dad got busted for tax fraud, and they lost everything. Their house, their money, HER CAR! GOD DAMN IT, SHOW, NOT CORDY’S CAR! That’s a bridge too far! You spent two seasons building that story!

She can’t afford to go to college now. As she dumps this on Xander and dares him to tell everyone, the demon dog busts in and kills a dude.

And you know what?

I’ve seen this episode.

I actually know how this resolves. Not the demon dog stuff. That’s boring and I clearly did not care about it on the first go ’round. But the Cordy/Xander/money stuff. Because even when I knew NOTHING about this show, I knew only Cordelia mattered.

At the team meeting, Cordelia notices the demon skipped Xander in his civvies and went after a kid wearing a tux, and Xander keeps her secret, pretending to snark at her about spending money instead. So it must want formally-attired individuals! Wesley recognizes the beast as a Hellhound. Supernatural does those better!

But let’s be honest: Supernatural did literally everything better than Buffy.

On the security footage, they see a kid they know from school named Tucker in the background watching the Hellhound at work. This same kid recently sent a threatening email about the prom that Willow discovers through her long-forgotten hacking prowess! A reinvigorated Buffy vows to defend the prom no matter what!

Cordelia is leaving work to head to the prom, and her coworker remarks she is leaving her dress behind. Cordy laments she did not earn enough money to pay for it, but coworker notes it was paid off in her name by someone else. Cordy looks at the receipt and smiles. OH MY GOD, I BOTH LOVE AND HATE THIS BECAUSE I KNOW WHERE IT’S GOING.

Buffy sends her friends to the prom and tells them she will deal with the Hellhound; she wants them to enjoy their night instead and let her do what she can to make it safe for them. Giles deduces from her demeanor that Angel dumped her and offers to get her ice cream (which actually sounds less patronizing in the show than I’m making it sound, to be fair). She defers until after the day is saved.

At the prom, Fatboy Slim is playing to remind us it is that brief moment in time we called “1999”. Xander arrives with Anya, who is clearly boring him with Wish Demon stories. Giles and Wesley are chaperoning.

Think about that last bit for a moment.

Who is WESLEY to this school? He’s just some rando British adult friend of Giles’ who showed up and started hanging out there with high school kids. Weird enough on its own, sure, but now he is chaperoning their prom? He’s just a DUDE, dude! He doesn’t work OR parent there! Given the mass deaths at SunnyDale, shouldn’t they be more cautious of this stuff?

Cordelia shows up, stunning Wesley in her gifted dress. She and Xander have some playful back and forth about how good the dress looks on her, and given she is about to leave SunnyDale to go be on Angel’s spin-off, this is their reconciliation, and I hate that it worked on me and I cared!

Buffy shows up at Tucker’s house, and it’s revealed that he has been Clockwork Orange-ing the Hellhound prom-based 80’s cinema. Tucker tells her he “had his reasons” for doing what he is doing; then we get a two second flashback of a girl saying “no” to his prom proposal, haha. Good stuff! He actually has FOUR Hellhounds… and three are en route to the prom!

HEY! We haven’t had to do this in a while, but Buffy takes out the Hellhounds EFFORTLESSLYTM. But that’s fine; they aren’t the point of this episode anyway. With their defeat, Buffy heads to prom.

Jonothan announces a special award for Buffy: CLASS PROTECTOR. Apparently the 1998-1999 mortality rate was the lowest in SunnyDale history, and now I REALLY want to see how many students died over the course of this season. Because that’s sad. Anyway, they give her a sparkly parasol, and I guess that whole secret identity thing is all the way gone now.

Wesley asks Giles for permission to dance with Cordy. An exasperated Giles says “For god’s sake man, she’s 18”, but in a “And That Makes It Okay” kind of way, not in a “And You Are Almost 30 Or So With A Power Imbalance Over Her” kind of way and OH MY GOD, Joss Whedon’s fingerprints are all over that, aren’t they?

Anya and Xander are having a good time dancing. Angel shows up in a tux to dance with Buffy, but he tells her it is just for tonight and doesn’t change anything. Well… that’s kind of a downer.

TWO MORE EPISODES IN THIS SEASON! Time to graduate and fight THE MAYOR, which sounds like it should be the last level on a Double Dragon game from the 80’s.

The Mayor-centric episode here was… I don’t know. Box O’ Spiders and Principal Snyder somehow losing all the insider info he used to have? Weird. But it was nice seeing the team try out going on the initiative.

The prom episode was also up and down. I’ve long since been over the Will They / Won’t They of Buffy and Angel, and I guess with his spin-off looming, they finally Won’t They’d for good. Their perpetually forced drama was awful at all turns. But I did like that Cordelia and Xander made peace, as well as all that “Class Protector” stuff that showed maybe everyone wasn’t as oblivious as the show let on. This feels like long-simmering angles are resolving, and I dig that.