Graduation Day, Part 2
Written and Directed by: Joss Whedon
Air Date: July 13, 1999

Since I didn’t watch this show when it first aired, I had no clue that this one didn’t premiere until two months after part one. What a boner that must have been. Columbine really messed up our country, huh? Oh well. As a result, though, this is technically the first episode of the show I ever saw. I remember being home that summer and catching the tail end, with Buffy running through the school, demon-Mayor hot on her trail, and Giles blowing the ever-living-fuck out of the snake. I had no clue what I was watching, but I must not have thought that much of it at the time, since I didn’t really ever watch, again, until many years later. Oh well, enough personal bits. On to the review.

In the season two finale, “Becoming, Part 2” we had a lot happen. Brutal torture, the death of loved ones, and the heartbreak of it all that caused Buffy to skip town for months. Here, we get a ton of fun. Its a nice change of pace, considering how much of season three has been about the aftermath of season two’s ending. By this, I mean to say that Buffy has been struggling to find her place in the world after having lost sight of it, and all season she’s been struggling with how to live with so many changes around her; new Slayer, new Watcher, graduation, and the possibility of college. Surviving a war against evil during the day-to-day is one thing, but here we have her looking to survive the year-to-year until she is old. Having a finale be about “surviving high school” (as Oz so eloquently puts it) is a nice way of making it about her growth as a character and not so much about saving the world.

Which of course is what happens here. After an insanely sexual moment where Buffy gets “sucked off” (heheh) by Angel to save his life, Buffy ends up in the same hospital as Faith who survived her beating last episode but is likely to remain in a coma for the rest of her life (note: not true). There is a powerful scene, here, where Buffy is almost killed by an outraged and emotional Mayor Wilkins and Angel throws him off. He doesn’t know that Angel is skipping town, so he possibly has some pent up frustration that his plan to get him out of town and then, in turn, to kill Angel using the poison didn’t work. Its the only time the Mayor cracks, calling Buffy a whore and then casually laughing the whole thing off. He’s hurt for the first time all season. When his deputy mayor died, he seemed more disappointed than sad. And he laughed about Mr. Trick dying. Here, his emotional connection – maybe his only emotional connection – is gone. He’s damaged. And he’ll be out for blood.

Buffy has a delightful dream sequence, one that will be mirrored during season four’s finale. Its pure Whedon riddle-based fun, with tons of lines that are confusing to most. But if you follow, you’ll learn that Faith references Dawn, here, for the first time, regarding her as “Little Miss Muffet” and the comment about 7-3-0 could be in relation to how many days until that whole mess starts. This is, again, paralleled in season four’s finale, so we’ll hit more on that at that time. But here, we see that Faith gives Buffy the final clue as to how to take out the Mayor: hit him emotionally. Angel seeing him in a crippled state, paired with this bit of information (comically referenced in her big pow-wow before the last battle) is enough to begin a plan in Buffy’s head. And then we really get to see her take charge.

See, without a Watcher to tell her what to do, Buffy is now in control of the ship. And when she says she’s ready to go to war, she means it. She is a little lost as far as details are concerned, but she starts to work with what she has, even getting Angel and Wesley in on it, and is ready to send the Mayor off in a big, explosive (literally) final battle. And it works. Buffy has grown up a lot during high school and is now ready to “graduate” more than just her public education, but also from being told what to do. This is the first change since she’s quit following the Watcher Council’s orders, but not the last. Its good to see her go through this growth, though, as its telling of how powerful and intereting her life has been and has yet to become.

The ending is all about the giant CG snake monster, though. Its rough looking, now, primarily because this was 1999 and 12-years dates any and all computer graphics. But the way the season goes out is a damned impressive one. The students all being prepared with weapons, the backup of Angel and Wesley (and a bunch of random dudes?), and Buffy’s taunting of the Mayor with Faith’s knife is pulled off punch for punch. Its great stuff, watching stupid, no-name character get eaten, poor Larry get tossed (apparently to death!?), and watching Cordelia stake her first vampire. Harmony gets her ass bit (well, her neck) and that will be a game changer for her. And its nice to see Angel and Wesley battling together, here, for the first time. And even the Mayor’s stupid “Well, gosh!” is a nice touch and showcases that, even pissed and demonic, he’s still the same dude up in that giant snake body. Even if it is horrible CG.

The final scenes feature Angel walking off into the fog after the battle is over, the last time he shows up as a main character on this show, and the group processing the battle and destruction of their school. This is also Cordelia’s last moment on the show, seeing as how she never appeared once after this, a shame since she was just starting to get cool, again. These two moments signal the large change that is about to happen for these characters once things start up again in season four and Angel’s own spinoff’s first season. They graduated high school and Angel skipped town for L.A. and nothing will be the same again. The lighthearted – more or less – nature of this episode is perfect for the sendoff, especially in comparison to the things that go down later on in the next seasons. Its the end of these characters’ innocence, really. And a welcome change of pace.

Episode Rating: 96

Additional Notes:
-I love love love that Johnathan holds Cordelia when the bombs are going off. Its a nice touch
-Giles finding it perfectly “ironic” that he’s going to be the one to blow the library up is also a nice touch
-Willow and Oz show up late because they’d just had sex. In… in case you didn’t figure that out on your own
-I don’t like that Larry died and they don’t confirm this. Its tragic. I guess they do in season six, but way to leave that up in the air, guys
-Angel thinking Willow was Buffy (while dying) was funny, but not as much as Oz going “you too?”
-The moment finally comes and Wes and Cordy kiss… and its the most awkward thing ever
-Giles continues his father-like nature by digging for Buffy’s diploma. How fucking sweet!