Season three starts off strong. Most people I know don’t like “Anne” but I really think that episode sets the stage for the entire season. Buffy couldn’t deal, so she fled. But that didn’t work for her. Her desire to help those in need and to stop evil prevails, and that’s what this season is all about; the drive to do good. In the toughest moments this season has to offer, it is this drive that gets Buffy and her friends through it. And its something that will stay with them for the rest of the series. The first episode cements this doubly because Willow, Xander, Oz, and the rest continue to fight the good fight, despite none of them having great power (yet) or abilities. Even without Buffy, she’s inspired her friends to battle evil because, heck, someone has to, and its the right thing to do. This drive is combated, all season long in fact, by the appearance of Faith.

See, what Faith represents is what Buffy could be, and how far that drive can take a person, even if it takes them in the completely opposite direction. And that’s why I love Faith so much. She really provides a great foil for Buffy, one that Kendra never really could. Its a great moment when she first shows up, laughing off a battle while she’s in the middle of it, and how she continues to think of Slaying as her calling, not just some duty that needs to be followed because its her calling. Faith gets herself into a lot of trouble, starting with “Bad Girls” and going all the way through the rest of the season. But its because of the distance she feels between herself and everyone else, her beliefs vs theirs. This distance is mirrored subtly all season long by the entire Scooby group who will never regain complete trust amongst one another for the rest of the series. This is where the breakups start, the heartache, and all of the tension between friends.

In the past seasons, the “Big Bad” was a vampire of some sort. Here, though, we’re treated to Mayor Richard Wilkins III, a likable chap that simply wants to become an immortal demon snake. Not such a bad guy. He’s referenced a bunch in season two, but when we finally get to meet the bastard, he’s lovable and fun. Its less about being evil and more about being interesting. And, despite being fairly one-note all season, this dude is seriously interesting. His relationship with his underlings is fun and plenty can be said about his father/daughter relationship with Faith near the last third of the season. And that’s what it takes to have an interesting bad guy: great relationships. Even his interactions with Snyder all season are interesting and simply telling of how far reaching his powers are within the town. He provides a for a fun antagonist all season, and when compared to Spike or Drusilla or The Master or Angelus? That’s what a season more or less dedicated to Buffy’s growth needed most.

Everyone else goes through quite a change. Xander becomes more confident, even after he gets his ass dumped by Cordelia. His sex with Faith in “The Zeppo” even starts him down a path and a role he’ll fill for the rest of the season, being the guy that “sees everything” (until, well… nevermind). Willow, too, goes through some changes, most notably after the events of “Doppelgangländ” but even before, with her sexuality starting to burst through, mostly to reconnect with Oz after the events of “Lover’s Walk” and beyond. Cordelia, who was mostly comic relief, starts to shine through yet again, mostly after her father loses all their money for tax evasion. And Giles, particularly after he is fired from the Watcher’s Council in “Helpless“, grows to be more of a father figure than before. Oz doesn’t go through much, but that’s because he’s already perfect. But the best character to see go through changes is Joyce Summers, Buffy’s mom. She knows, now, about Buffy’s life and calling, and does her best to deal with it. When it works, it works, like her dedication to helping and loving her child, but when it doesn’t, its cringe-worthy (see: “Gingerbread“).

Production values are through the roof (in comparison) on this show, now. The fight sequences (of note: Faith and Buffy EVERY DAMN TIME) are better, the transformations to and from vampire form are more fluid, and even some of the dusting animations are pretty darn slick, with the vampires burning to dust in the final episode taking the cake. Music is no longer as atrocious, either, actually managing to fit in with the episodes most of the time. And you can see at night, now. Compare graveyard sequences between season one’s “Nightmares“, season two’s “Lie to Me“, and then this season’s “Enemies” and you’ll see that they’ve now mastered how to film in moonlight. It only gets better from here, yes, but here is a damned good place to be.

Also, Buffy is no longer wearing those skirts and knee-high boots as often, so I’m less likely to feel guilty watching a high schooler.

Its the end of a lot of things, season three. Buffy’s time working for the Watcher’s Council, Giles’ job as a Watcher, Buffy and her friends’ time in high school, and the relationship between Angel and Buffy (which was put through quite a ringer during this season, by the way, between The First showing up to cause problems in “Amends” and then the Mayor trying to split them up in “Choices“). Angel leaves after the season is over, taking Cordelia and Wesley with him to start his own show. Buffy and company are about to attend college, and Giles will have to find something else to do to occupy his time, now that the school has been blown to bits and he is no longer needed as librarian. Season three is about the change and growth of high schoolers at the end of their public education and this season nails it, perfectly. On top of it, it tells entertaining and interesting stories that never fail to leave me pleased.

From here, we have two shows to watch: “BtvS” and “Angel” – and yes, that’s right, I’ll be reviewing both because I don’t care about my sanity any longer. We’ve got a long… winding road ahead of us. Fuck.

Average Episode Rating: 86.05
Season Rating: 92

Favorite Episode: The Zeppo
Best Episode: Doppelgängland
Worst Episode: Gingerbread
Best Episode to Feature Spike: Lover’s Walk

Hottest Chick: Faith

In an upset vote, Faith knocks out Cordelia during the latter’s final season on the show. Alas! But, in all seriousness, come on. Its like apples and oranges, here.

Favorite Character: Going to yet again side with the season’s primary bad guy, the “Big Bad” Richard Wilkins. He’s just so darned fun!