Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Episode: “Choices” (May 4, 1999)
Synopsis by Jason Henderson
Buffy decides to take the fight to the Satanic Mayor - - but will she have to lose the war to save Willow?
Buffy: Sarah Michelle Gellar
Willow: Alyson Hannigan
Xander: Nicholas Brendan
Faith: Elizabeth Dushku
Oz: Seth Green
Angel: David Boreanaz
Joyce: Kristine Sutherland
Giles: Anthony Stewart Head
Cordelia: Charisma Carpenter
We open with the mayor playing mind games Faith, and giving his trampy little protégé a decorative knife as a gift and asking her to take care of an errand a the airport. Meanwhile, Buffy and Angel are out on patrol together, killing demons and wondering if life is getting too predictable.
Buffy just got accepted to Northwestern University, but feels she can’t go, now that Faith has turned to the Dark Side of Slayerdom. She did get into Sunnydale U. Willow, meanwhile, got into Oxford (Fox Mulder’s alma mater). Also MIT, Yale and Harvard. Cordelia wanders by and trades insults with Xander, who’s taken to citing Kerouac. (“The open road is my classroom.”)
Watcher Wes refuses to let Buffy go away to school with no extra slayer and the Mayor’s ascension coming up. Buffy resolves to “take the fight to the mayor.”
At the airport, a man delivers a big metal box for the mayor. Faith, ever more charming, shoots him in the back and hacks off his hand to get at the box.
Buffy learns from a vampire that the box is the Box of Gavrock, important to the mysterious “Ascension,” and she plots an assault on City Hall. Since magic defenses will predominate, Wiccan Willow will be forward in the attack.
Meanwhile, Xander stops by to trade barbs with Cordelia, who got into several excellent schools but is hiding something.
The Slayer Gang roll into City Hall as the Powerless Pair Xander and Oz whip up the anti-ascension brew recipe Willow left them back at the library.
From the roof of City Hall, Willow knocks out the box’s magical defenses before Angel lowers Buffy on pulleys through the ceiling. This cat-burglar-style Plan A goes awry when she sets off am alarm, leaving Buffy and Angel to try to fight their way out with the box. They get away.
But Faith gives the mayor a bargaining chip- - she has Willow at knifepoint.
Buffy wants to trade the box back for Willow, but Wes is against giving away the key to the mayor’s ascension. (“You’d sacrifice thousands of lives?”)
Prisoner at City Hall, Willow fends off the advances of a vampire by TELEKINETICALLY STAKING HIM THROUGH THE HEART WITH A PENCIL. Willow goes wandering, but rather than escape, she stops off at the mayor’s magic cabinet and reads the Books of Ascension, for hours, apparently. Of course, Faith catches her.
Faith mocks Willow’s speech last time they met (“We can still be friends; it’s not too late.”) But Willow has news: “It’s way too late... You’re nothing. You have no one. You’re just a big, selfish, worthless waste.” Faith nearly slices her before the Mayor interrupts. “I've got someone. I've got him,” Faith says.
When the trade comes, the mayor surprises everyone by giving Angel a speech, cleverly dissecting the vampire’s doomed relationship with the slayer. He’s an immortal himself, and knows how unhappy such relationships can be, but more, Angel is cursed to never know happiness. He paints a pathetic picture of the two, then says, “Make the trade.”
But then, Principal Snyder interrupts the trade with police to bust what he believes is a drug deal. The mayor sends them all scurrying away, but not before one of the GIANT SPIDERS from the Ascension Box kills one of the police officers. Buffy and Faith each slay a spider, the trade is made, Faith loses her knife, and everyone goes home.
Putting everyone pretty much back where they started, with Buffy doomed to never escape Sunnydale. There is some god news, though: in fine TV tradition, Willow will be turning down Harvard to attend Sunnydale U. (And fight evil and help people, she says.)
* The most interesting thing about this episode is the extremely, extremely creepy relationship between Slayer-gone-bad Faith and Hizoner and Demonic Sugar Daddy the Mayor. Faith, who we always see in other scenes as sassy, confident and proud, is petulant and childish around the mayor, doting, demanding, frightened, and even a little lusty. It’s a strange, complicated mix, and faith’s character changes from moment to moment. When the mayor gives her a present she likes (the knife) and then threatens to take it away, the look on Faith’s face is of genuine fear at losing a sample of whatever love she perceives from the Mayor. What is she most like? If I had to pin it down, I’d say she acts like the favorite whore of an alternately cruel and lavishly generous pimp. To her, he’s god, daddy, and romantic interest all rolled into one, and she’s nearly clueless as to how best to serve each one. But what does she say she has in this world? “I have him.” This girl has problems.
I don’t mean to sound psychological, but there really is a lack of pride, a genuine dearth of self-esteem, to Faith. Even if Willow has run out of pity, I haven’t. I like Willow’s stern and brave talk (“You made your choice.”), but I can’t help but think there’s still hope for the redemption of Faith. Girl’s a homicidal maniac, though, so it will be tough.
* I’m not sure what’s bugging Cordelia now that she knows she can head for a top-flight college and finally escape the Slayer Gang, but she’s getting more, not less vicious. Xander approaches her and is almost sweet about trying to figure out what’s wrong. They’ll have a tender moment before she’s off to co-star in Angel’s show.
*Nice to see Xander and Oz working together so well, with Xander openly admiring Willow, their hero gal. Willow is clearly nearing a new arc, the genuine launch of Willow the Super-hero. (In this episode, she used her telekinesis to stake a vampire in a panic; soon she’ll be hurling stakes like Darth Vader.)
*Kudos to the mayor for commenting on the super-drama of the trade, which feels like Gary Powers marching across the bridge in the sixties. It’s cultural savvy like this that makes Buffy one of the smartest shows on TV, with casual references to a vast breadth of knowledge. Only MST3K went further, rest its soul.
*Even more kudos to the mayor for his dressing down of Angel and Buffy. The speech hurt, and revealed a deeper, cleverer side of the mayor than we get a chance to see. And he wins this round, too.
*Faith lost her knife at the end, and I have to say, I felt sad for the girl. The little maniac just seems so sad.
“You got into Oxford... That’s where they make Gileses.”
-Buffy to Willow
“Anybody with brains, anyone who knew what was going to happen to her would be clawing her way out of this place. But you, you just can’t stop Nancy Drewing, can you?”
-Faith to Willow, after Willow forgoes an escape to stop and read (even if it’s valuable info she reads.)
“The mayor probably doesn’t even know what a lasting relationship is. Probably the only lasting relationship he’s ever had is with... evil. Big, stupid evil guy.”
-Buffy to Angel, dismissing the mayor’s astute observations that they’re doomed.