Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Mick's Top Ten Best of Buffy, Part Two

Welcome to the second installment of Mick’s Top Ten Best of Buffy. Part one - featuring spots ten, nine, and eight - can be read here.

With a quick reminder that SPOILERS can be found below, let’s jump right into spots seven, six, and five.


Season 3, Episodes 21 & 22, Air Dates: 5/18/99 & 7/13/99
Written and Directed by Joss Whedon

Along with offering a thundering climax to Buffy’s third season and helping to set up the first season of Angel, “Graduation Day” marked the end of an era. It would be a mistake to claim that the finale marked a “jump the shark” point, but the feel of the show was never the same once its heroes graduated. There was a particular chemistry between the characters in Sunnydale High that would never be repeated (which, you know, was kind of the point).

“Graduation Day” wasn’t particularly unique among Buffy season finales, other than the number of new developments. The episode gave viewers a surprising alliance between the students of Sunnydale High, the school’s destruction, the death of Principal Snyder as well as some of the more peripheral characters, Buffy severing ties with the Watcher’s Council, a final break-up between Buffy and Angel as well as a bloody pseudo-sex scene between the two, and an equally bloody climax to the conflict between Buffy and Faith the rogue slayer.

When choosing my Top Ten, I was usually careful not to choose something simply because it featured a so-called milestone event (e.g., episodes featuring the first appearances of characters who would later be key figures in the series, episodes featuring the deaths of regular characters, etc.), but “Graduation Day” is chock full of them. The episode is all about change, after all, and the new developments were necessary to get that across.

And you can’t go wrong with two of the series’ most engaging villains: Mayor Wilkins and his protege Faith. As much as I always felt Eliza Dushku was one of the least impressive actors on the series, the conflict between Faith and Buffy was riveting regardless. Harry Groener is equally fatherly, genial, and absolutely vicious as Mayor Wilkins. He remains one of the most genuinely intimidating and enjoyable Buffy bad guys. Both characters serve as examples of how the antagonists of Buffy could engage the audience better when they were more human than demon. Few of the “Big Bads” after Wilkins/Faith succeeded as well.

SIX: “BECOMING part 1 & 2"

Season 2, Episodes 21 & 22, Air Dates: 5/12/98 & 5/19/98
Written and Directed by Joss Whedon

“Becoming” would, um, become a model for future episodes highlighting the early days of recurring vampire characters. Mixing the present story with scenes from Angel’s devilish past and the beginnings of his attempts to reconcile that past, “Becoming” gave its audience a prologue that rendered Buffy’s sacrifice of Angel that much more powerful.

The sacrifice of Angel showed how Buffy had evolved into a woman who was willing to do the unthinkable for the sake of the world and simultaneously how she could never fit into the narrow role her heroic lineage dictated, served as a metaphor for the difficulty of letting go of destructive lovers, and gave Buffy viewers one of the most heartbreaking conclusions in the series (if not in the history of television).

On a side note, “Becoming” also rid the series of Kendra the slayer. Not only did this make way for Faith, but also did away with criminally fake accents until they reared their ugly heads again in Season 7.


Season 5, Episode 22, Air Date: 5/22/01
Written and Directed by Joss Whedon

Never has a better episode of a TV series been made whose centerpiece was a fierce battle for the life of a character as annoying as Dawn Summers.

More than anything else, “The Gift” is a perfect example of how Whedon & co. manage to take a bunch of ridiculous elements that by all rights should never appear as anything but ridiculous and make them work. The combatants of the battle include a lovesick vampire, a Buffy decoy robot originally designed as a sex toy, and a vampire slayer battling a demon goddess with martial arts and a hammer stolen from a troll that would make mjolnir feel inadequate. Somehow, they make it work, and not just as a comedy.

Just as heartbreaking as “Becoming”, “The Gift” is something of a reflection of that earlier two-parter. As ill-equipped as she was for the viciousness required to fulfill her expected role, Buffy “rose to the challenge” when she sent Angel to hell. Finally and unequivocally unwilling to play the part that’s been forced upon her, Buffy sacrifices herself rather than even humor the possibility of again killing a loved one. It’s her final abandonment of everything she was supposed to be.

Considering her death at the end of the episode, the high quality of Season 5 as a whole, and the mixed quality of what would come after, one could argue that the series would have been better left at the end of “The Gift”.

We’re halfway there! What episodes will make the final grade? What will come out on top? Will Mick actually finish it this week or will schoolwork conspire against him? Will he interrupt the Ton Ten Best of Buffy to post funny scans from Infinite Crisis or perhaps spark a Man-Thing vs. Swamp Thing debate?

Tune in tomorrow to find out!

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