Monday, July 4, 2011

Buffy Blog: "The Prom"

Before the deluge? “The Prom” written and directed by Buffy regulars Marti Noxon and David Solomon, is the last episode before the third season finale of “Graduation Day”. It offers a bit, I emphasise a bit here, of a breather between “Choices” and “Graduation Day”, episodes that respectively move the big bad arc of season three forward and bring it to an action/adventure end.

“The Prom” is, ostensibly at least, an episode that centres around yet another American high school ritual (though I am told it is spreading beyond the boundaries of the United States into other parts of the Western world), that, as Buffy puts it, “… big end-of-high-school-rite-of-passage" thingy…”, the prom. While the ascension of the mayor is briefly mentioned in the episode and “The Prom” is on one level about the prom, the focus of “The Prom” is on a number of character arcs, character arcs that find a kind of closure at the prom.

The Buffy/Angel arc is what is really at the heart of “The Prom”. Ever since Spike told Buffy and Angel in “Lovers Walk” that they will never be friends, there has been a bit of fatalism surrounding the Buffy and Angel relationship. The mayor’s spot on remarks in “Choices” about the absurdities surrounding the relationship added to this sense of fatalism surrounding the Buffy/Angel relationship and has even led to a bit of self-reflection on their part as Angel admits to Buffy that the mayor was right about their relationship having no future. In “The Prom” Buffy’s mum adds fuel to the Buffy and Angel really have no future fire. Realising that Buffy has spent the night with Angel Joyce comes to Angel’s Mansion and tells Angel that he has tough “choices” (there are those choices again) to make about their relationship.

It is Angel’s dream (it has to be a dream given that no one is at the wedding and it, thanks to the music, the POV shot of the church windows, Angel’s increasing fear about exiting into the sun, has an eerie dreamlike quality to it), a dream in which Buffy, rather than Angel, as we would expect, is burned up by the sun after they exit the church after their wedding, that finally leads Angel to make his choice. He tells Buffy after they have entered the sewers of Sunnydale in search of demons—Buffy finds and kills one—that he is leaving her and leaving Sunnydale if they survive the “ascension”.

Buffy is, of course, devastated. The scene between Buffy and Angel is followed by a wonderful and painful scene—I have to fight back tears every time I see it—where Buffy and Willow commiserate while sitting together on Buffy’s bed about the break-up. Willow, as best friends are supposed to do, tries to make Angel into the bad guy. Buffy says she doesn’t have to because “…he's [Angel] right. In the long run – I think maybe he's right”. In a devastating and powerful scene that equals if not surpasses any of the emotional intensity in Ingmar Bergman films and television shows, Buffy breaks down, tells Willow she feels like she is dying and can’t breath, and falls in tears into Willow’s lap. And despite Angel showing up to be with Buffy at the prom the relationship of the vampire slayer and the vampire, the girl from the right side of the tracks and the boy from the wrong side of the tracks, seems to be at an end, at least for now. The pain just keeps on coming.

The Giles arc. Giles continues to play the surrogate father to Buffy’s surrogate daughter promising her ice cream to help her get over the loss of Angel.

The Cordy and Cordy and Xander arc. Xander, once again, as he did in “Choices”, is walking by April Fools, a Sunnydale woman’s dress shop, sees Cordy inside, and goes in to engage in his usual verbal gymnastics and abuse with her. Cordy is not, however, in a verbal sparring mood thanks to the fact that her Dad has made a little mistake on his taxes during the last twelve years and that Cordy and her family have lost everything. As a result Cordy is not going to be able to attend any of the colleges that accepted her and has to work part time at April Fools in order to buy the dress she wants to wear to the prom. Buffy and the pain that is life.

Xander, initially dumbstruck, covers for Cordy the name tag girl when all the Scoobies gather in the library to view a video of a Hell Hound attack on Tux Guy at April Fools—an attack that occurred during the Cordy/Xander conversation—to try and figure out what is going on. Later when Cordy is getting ready to leave April Fools without the dress because she hasn’t earned enough money to purchase it. We viewers and Cordy learns that somebody has bought it for her. Touchingly that someone is Xander. With Wesley on Cordy’s arm—the Wesley and Cordy arc takes another step forward toward romance—Cordy thanks Xander bringing the Cordy/Xander relationship arc to closure.

The Anya arc. Anya is back and in her remembering with joy the various punishments she inflicted on men and her men are evil way, asks Xander to the prom because he “is not quite as obnoxious as most of the alpha males around here (Sunnydale). Plus I know you don't have a date”. He accepts. What is it with Xander and demons (remember the praying mantis femme fatale of “Teachers Pet” and the mummy girl of“Inca Mummy Girl”?). Will we be seeing a Xander/Anya arc in the future?

Finally there is the episode arc of “The Prom”. The monster of the week is Tucker Wells and the Hell Hounds he has trained to attack Sunnydale High School students in formal wear (Cordy in her usual attention to fashion way recognizes this before any of the other Scoobies) by showing them teen films like Carrie (a film referenced in “The Prom” by Buffy who says she has “to stop a crazy person from pulling a Carrie at the prom”), Pump up the Volume, and Pretty in Pink (a breaking of the fourth wall laugh out loud moment). The mystery of the week is whether the Scoobies will be able to save prom goers from Tucker and his Hell Hounds.

It isn't long before we know the answer to that mystery. Buffy, of course, saves the day. And she saves the day by herself. Buffy tells the other Scoobies to go to the prom promising them a prom night even “if [she has] to kill every single person on the face of the Earth” to give it to them. She doesn’t have to kill everybody. She has to kill just three of Tucker’s “fiercest” Hell Hound “babies” he has set loose on the prom. Buffy dispatches them and then puts on her pink dress (which she looks really good in) and heads to the prom herself.

“The Prom” ends with a scene that could have been saccharine and maudlin but turns out to be quite touching and, for those of us who have followed Buffy and the Scoobies and identified with one or more of them (not because of some male, xenophobic, racist, or colonial gaze but because we identified with one or more of the Scoobies because they were like us, because they like us were nerdy, needy, outsiders, in love, beaten up by life, unsure of ourselves, unsure of our futures) from the beginning through triumph and tragedy and joy and pain, packs quite an emotional punch and gives us, at the same time, a vicarious sense of pleasure, not the sexual pleasure academics seem to be obsessed with, but simple viewing pleasure. We viewers, or at least this viewer, feel a sense of pleasure, of pride, of satisfaction, that Buffy is finally noticed by her classmates, that Buffy is presented a special award by the 1999 Senior Class of Sunnydale High, the Class Protector umbrella (Jonathan is back and presents it to her) for making the 1999 Sunnydale High graduating class mortality the rate the lowest of any graduating class in Sunnydale High history. Happiness.

This being Buffy “The Prom” cannot end without some pain. Xander looses out on Sunnydale High class clown to Jack Mayhew.

And speaking of pain and happiness its time we were off to the action packed season three finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer…

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