Sunday, July 3, 2011

Buffy Blog: "Choices"

“Choices” written and directed by Buffy regulars David Fury and James Contner brings us back to the season three Mayor Wilkins big bad arc. It’s time for the mayor to complete yet another ritual on his path to “ascension”. This time it involves a box, the Box of Gavrok, and what is inside that box, billions of spider like demons called Gavrok that have something to do with the mayor’s “ascension”.

This being Buffy the mayor arc isn’t the only arc moving forward in “Choices”. Buffy, Willow, and Cordelia pass through another one of those growing up rituals of high school, admissions letters to colleges. Buffy gets admitted to Northwestern and the University of California Sunnydale (the first time we learn that Sunnydale has a branch of the University of California). Willow gets into Oxford, Harvard, MIT, Yale, and the University of California Sunnydale and is thinking about the joys of studying and eating scones at the first. Cordy is admitted to USC, Colorado State, and Duke. Xander, who apparently didn’t get into college anywhere, is planning to follow in Jack Kerouac’s footsteps and take his bohemian anti-establishment victim show on the road. Oz is typically silent about his future plans.

Faith’s plans, at the moment, continue to be all about doing the mayor’s dirty work. In “Choices” the mayor, who is acting more and more the father to our rogue Slayer, gives her cookies and a knife, “this thing of beauty”, as Faith lovingly calls it. It is not long before our rogue Slayer is using her new sharp and pointy best friend. While running an errand for the mayor—she goes to the aeroport to pick up the Box of Gavrok for his honour—Faith uses her new gore toy to cut the Box of Garvrok off an arm of a man she has killed that it is handcuffed to. Faith has become, as Angel said she would, a nihilist who apparently now has a taste for blood.

As the mayor plays surrogate Dad to his Slayer, so Giles continues to be surrogate Dad to his Slayer, Buffy (their relationship has really improved since “Helpless”). Giles, unlike new Watcher Wesley, is filled with pride when he learns that his Slayer has gotten into Northwestern. Buffy’s real father is mentioned as a possible source for Buffy’s financial support at Northwestern, but he is once again heard about but never seen. He continues to be absent without leave from Buffy’s life.

Cordelia is particularly verbally vicious to Xander and Buffy in “Choices”. When Cordy comes upon the Scoobies talking about going away to college she mocks Xander in that particularly Cordelia way and then, when Buffy tries to mediate peace between them says, “I'm sorry, Buffy. This conversation is reserved for people who actually HAVE a future” hitting Buffy in that sore spot that has occasionally festered during seasons one, two, and three—do I want to be a normal girl or a Slayer. Something seems to be up with Cordelia and this something seems to be making her particularly verbally vicious today. In a surprise, surprise dear viewers moment at the end of the episode we learn what it might be, Cordy, daughter of one of Sunnydale’s well off, is working at a women’s clothing store. Why? What’s up with that?

Stung by Cordelia’s mean girl you have no future quip Buffy, wondering whether if she deals with the mayor and Faith problems of the moment she can play the normal girl and go to school in Evanston and leave the Slaying, until college breaks, to Wes and Giles, decides to go on the offensive against the mayor and Faith. So off the Scoobies go to see if they can find out more about this “ascension”.

Buffy, Willow, and Angel head to City Hall to get the Box of Gavrok. Giles and Wesley wait outside in a van to create a diversion once they have the box. Xander and Oz are at the library preparing a potion to deal with the Box of Gavrok once Buffy and Angel bring the box to the library. Getting the Box of Gavrok seems as easy as 1, 2, 3. Willow casts a spell to reveal and then get rid of the supernatural alarms the mayor has safeguarded his treasure with. Buffy and Angel—Willow has made her getaway—forget about one thing, however, the non-supernatural alarm the mayor has put on the box. Despite a malfunction with the hoist with which Angel lowers Buffy down into a conference room in the City Hall, Buffy and Angel, thanks to Giles’s and Wes’s diversionary tactics, manage to make their getaway and bring the box to the library. They are missing one important thing, however. Willow.

Willow has, as we soon learn, been captured by Faith. The Scoobies recognizing what has happened argue about whether to trade the Box of Gavrok for Willow. Buffy, Xander, and Oz are all for the trade while Wesley is not, saying that he is not willing to trade one life, Willow’s, for the thousands that would be lost if the mayor gets the box back and ascends. Oz puts an end to the argument in untypically Oz fashion . He knocks the pot containing the potion to destroy the box off its post very “emphatically”.

Meanwhile back at the City Hall ranch the mayor is acting rather unlike himself as well. Learning that the Scoobies have the box he reacts with verbal anger (we will see more of the mayors temper in “Graduation Day”).
While the Scoobies are arguing and the mayor is licking his would Willow, who the mayor and Willow have imprisoned in a room, escapes from a cell by killing one of the mayors vampire minions through witchcraft by floating a pencil and then rapidly propelling it into the vamp’s back (we have seen Willow do both before in “Bad Girls”/”Consequences”). Rather than escaping, however, Willow finds her way into the mayor’s office where she looks through “The Books of Ascension”. There, confronted by Faith, Willow responds to Faith’s threats with courage and takes a big step forward in her own heroes journey:
WILLOW
Faith, I want to tell you something...
FAITH
Oh, yeah, please give me the
speech again: "Faith, we're still
your friends, we can help you,
it's not too late."
WILLOW
It's way too late.
Willow allows that to sink in, as Faith's grin fades.
WILLOW (cont'd)
It didn't have to be this way, but
you made your choice. I know
you've had a tough life. I know
some people think you've had a
lot of bad breaks, and that you've
hardened your heart to protect
yourself from the pain.
Faith softens, listening. Then Willow moves in and attacks.
WILLOW (cont'd)
Well, boo-hoo. Poor you. You
had a lot more in your life than
some people. You had friends
like Buffy. Now you've got no
one. And you were a slayer!
One of the Chosen. Now you're
nothing. Just a selfish,
worthless, waste.
A beat. Faith punches Willow in the face, sends her flying back to the floor. Willow gets groggily back up, holding her nose, tears streaming down her face.
FAITH
You try to hurt me, I try to hurt
you. I'm just a little more efficient.
WILLOW
And here I thought you just
didn't have a comeback.
FAITH
You're begging for some deep pain.
WILLOW
I'm not afraid of you.
Faith pulls out her new knife.

Just as Faith pulls out her sharp new toy to threaten Willow the mayor enters with the news that he has just arranged a trade. He will give the Scoobies Willow if they give him the Box of Gavrok.

Back to Sunnydale High School where the Scoobies are preparing for the trade in the Sunnydale High School cafeteria. Off go the lights and in comes the mayor and Faith holding Willow in a threatening way. But then Buffy does what Buffy does so well: it takes an unexpected u-turn. Buffy’s vampires and demons, are sometimes quite insightful, think Spike. This time Buffy’s insightful big bad is the mayor:
MAYOR
Speaking to Buffy and Angel
Well, I wish you kids the best, I
really do. But if you don't mind
a bit of fatherly advice, I, well
gosh I don't see much of a future
for you two. I don't sense a
lasting relationship, and not just
because I plan to kill the both of
you. You have a bumpy road ahead.
BUFFY
I don't think we need to talk
about this.
MAYOR
You kids, you don't like to think
about the future, don't like to
plan but unless you want Faith
to gut your friend like a seabass
you'll show a little respect for
your elders.
ANGEL
You're not my elder. I gotta lot
of years on you.
MAYOR
And that's just one of the things
you're gonna have to deal with.
You're immortal, she's not. It's
not easy. I married my Edna Mae
in aught three and I was with her
right until the end. Not a pretty
scene. Wrinkled and senile and
cursing me for my youth, it
wasn't our happiest time.
Buffy and Angel both stare steely-eyed at the Mayor, neither admitting that he is making sense. He moves slowly toward Angel.
MAYOR (cont'd)
(to Angel)
And let's forget the fact that any
moment of true happiness will
turn you evil. What kind of life
can you offer her? I don't see a
lot of Sunday picnics in the
offing. Skulking in the shadows,
hiding from the sun -- she's a
blossoming young girl! You
want to keep her from the life she
should have till it's passed her by
and by God I think that's a little
selfish. Is that what you came
back from Hell for? Is that your
greater purpose?
He's face to face with him now, and dead serious. Nobody says anything. Angel stares at him but has no comeback. Nor does Buffy. He's hit the mark, and in front of everyone.

The mayor’s insightfulness here can’t help but make this viewer wonder where the Buffy and Angel relationship is going and whether it has a future. Needless to say, we will see.

With the mayor’s speech over Principal Snyder proves once again to be the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time when he and a couple of policemen enter the cafeteria thinking that a drug sale is going down. Thanks to Snyder a couple of gavrok manage to get out of their box cage, kill one of the policemen, and injure the mayor who, thanks to his impregnability, heals himself. Faith kills the other gavrok spider which is climbing up the cafeteria wall with the knife the mayor gave her. She leaves the knife in the wall, though not willingly, when told by the mayor that it is time to take up their Box of Gavrok and leave.

“Choices”, of course, is about choices. Throughout season three our heroes and some of our villains have made choices in their lives just as they did in seasons one and two. Buffy chose not to become a bad girl. Faith did. Willow chooses to become a witch. Giles chooses Buffy over the Watcher’s Council and is fired. Wesley chooses to work with Giles rather than against him. Oz chooses to destroy the potion that could have been used to destroy the Box of Gavrok. At the end of the episode two of our heroes make one more choice: Buffy and Willow decide to matriculate at the University of Sunnydale both taking, in the process, two more steps in the fighting evil part of their heroes journey and two more steps in their journey to adulthood. This is not the end of choices in Buffy, however. As we will see our heroes and villains will have more choices to make before season three is over.

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