Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Episode: “Graduation Day, Part 1” (May 18, 1999)
Synopsis by Jason Henderson
The Slayer Gang prepares for the Mayor’s Ascension by panicking, whining, resigning and lusting. Guess who does which?
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 gang in the throes of upcoming graduation, and Willow is missing every little thing. Buffy, meanwhile, doesn’t take much interest in it, because the Mayor’s Ascension is coming. It happens, though, that the Mayor will be the High School Commencement speaker, meaning the Commencement and the Ascension will be one.
Increasingly Evil Slayer Faith, meanwhile, shows up a kindly professor’s door on orders from the Mayor, and stabs the old professor to death.
Later, Faith has a tender moment with the mayor, who has her put on a dress that makes her look like Laura Ingalls.
And at school, while classes devolve into a long, dull waiting period, Anya the former demon is trying desperately to get Xander to go out wit her, but Xander frightens her when he tells her he’s more concerned about surviving the Ascension.
Buffy, Wesley & Giles agree that Faith’s slaying of the professor had to be to hide something, so they’ll investigate. Then Anya shows up to give her narration- - she’s actually been to a sorcerer’s Ascension before.
The trick with the Ascension is, the sorcerer gets to become a demon. Anya reveals that all the demons we’ve seen in Sunnydale before are merely tainted, earth-born, human-demon hybrids. Ascension means a sorcerer becomes pure demon. How are pure demons different? “For one thing, they’re different,” says Anya.
The Mayor stops by the school to visit the Principal (“We owe you a debt. It will be repaid.”) Then, without warning, he drops by the library to taunt the Slayer Gang. (“So this is the inner sanctum.”) When Buffy spouts off to him, the Mayor actually says, “That’s one spunky little girl you’ve raised. I’m going to eat her.” Giles angrily drives a handy rapier through the mayor’s heart, doing no damage whatsoever. The Mayor leaves, looking forward to their certain deaths at Graduation.
Panic descends on the Slayer gang as Buffy tries to convince her Mom to leave town (“You stay, you’ll get me killed.”)
Willow fesses up to being terrified about the coming Ascension. Oz silences her by kissing her, and the pair have sex for the first time.
Buffy and Angel’s relationship, though, is still in it’s post-breakup death throes. The two argue in the street when a hidden Faith shoots Angel in the chest with a vampire-poisoning arrow, leaving Angel weakened and numb. Wesley says he’ll call the council to see if they can help figure out what the poison is.
Meanwhile, the watchers learn that the dead professor had expert knowledge of the same demon that the Mayor is going to turn into.
Anya comes to school to beg Xander to escape with her. “You’re going to die if you stay here.” Nothing the old demon (but young human) says gets through to him, and Xander walks away.
Wesley comes back to say the Watcher Council has refused to help with identifying Angel’s poison. Buffy hauls off and does the unthinkable: she fires the Watcher Council. “Tell them until the next slayer comes along, they can close up shop.” Wesley calls it mutiny, but Buffy prefers to think of it as “Graduation.”
Willow and Oz dig up the cure themselves: the blood of a Slayer. Buffy has just the Slayer in mind, and heads off to bring back Faith, dead.
At Faith’s apartment, Faith and Buffy try to kill one another in a vicious, brutal fight that moves from one end of the apartment to the other.
Back at the library, Xander and Giles find a picture of the Demon Olvikan (the Mayor’s next guise). As Xander unfolds the illustration, he cites Jaws: “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
On Faith’s balcony, Buffy finally stabs Faith in the gut. Faith, apparently dying, tosses herself off the roof and into the back of a moving toe truck, frustrating Buffy’s attempts to bring back the Evil Slayer’s blood.
And that’s it, because this episode is TO BE CONTINUED.
This is really just an extended set-up for the Season Finale, with the two sides moving their pieces into place for the Mayor’s Ascension and giving us time to watch the Gang and the bad guys alternately ravel and unravel under pressure.
The single best moment is the Mayor’s visit to the library. The Mayor is very well-written villain; not at all the scene-chewing Terence Stamp type any other show would have created. He’s confident, smooth, and disarmingly cheerful, Satan channeling Dale Carnegie. He walks right into the Slayer Gang’s inner sanctum and could probably kill them all right then and there. “I smell fear,” he says. “That’s smart.” The Gang is right to fear for their lives.
Almost lost in the mix is Buffy’s crisp dismissal of the Watcher Council. After all, she has Giles. This is an interesting twist and I wonder how many times the Powers That Be have considered it before. Buffy, after all, is the chosen one, and the Council is there to serve her, right? Or is she a soldier and servant of the Council? We’ll find out when we see if the Council sends assassins to ensure the quick arrival of another Slayer... (This is where I’d go.)
We get more wonderful character study with Faith and the Mayor. Watch the Mayor as he waits for Faith to put on her Ascension dress, a sweet flowered print, in her apartment. The Mayor fusses, picking up the place, straightening stacks of comics and throw-rugs on the sofa. When she emerges, he lavishes sweet and fatherly attention on her, even stating outright, “No father could be prouder.” To all intents and purposes he is her father now, and Faith’s devotion is heart-wrenching. Later, the Mayor calls her by a name her mother used to use, “You little Firecracker.” I know these are the bad guys- - and Faith’s a maladjusted, homicidal sociopath- - but I haven’t figured out yet if the Mayor is playing the girl, only to betray her later. Didn’t he know Buffy would try to drain her blood to cure the poison he gave her? Or has His Satanic Honor actually adopted her as a child and companion for his world rule? Kudos, though, to the writers- - I keep wanting to see Faith “saved.”
The Ananka/Xander connection continues to amuse, with Ananka attempting desperately to connect with the human she’s fallen in love with. Out of all the things a demon can become, why must she be a teenager in love? Even Xander recognizes that the demon is trying, but he dismisses her when she inadvertently reminds him that he often gets in the way. Xander’s not going anywhere, because he has “friends on the line.” Cheers to the Zeppo, determined to be useful to the last, but Anya is left alone, too inexperienced to say anything to change the inevitable showdown into which Xander’s walking.
Minor plot point: Wesley makes a good observation when he notes that by trying to erase evidence, the Mayor has inadvertently drawn them to it by having the professor killed. This is so true it’s too true. This should have been a trap, but it’s not. Killing the professor is careless on the mayor’s part, unless it just appears to be.
“They always go for the E.” Xander’s class is playing hangman as the semester dwindles down. Brilliant. I can’t imagine a better illustration of the meaninglessness of the last days of the senior year, when hundreds of students are forced to while away their time in the company of teachers who are restless as they are.
Before Buffy leaves to kill Faith, Xander says, “I just don’t want to lose you,” and he says he’s not referring to her death. Is he saying he doesn’t want to see Buffy turn into the kind of ruthless killer Faith is? Faith echoes the same sentiment when Buffy appears in her apartment, wondering if our heroine has what it takes to take on someone as cruel and vicious as Faith. It turns out Buffy is up to the task, and after all, only the viewer gets to see what a lost girl Faith is. In any event, Faith tosses herself into a truck; she’ll be back like a character on Melrose Place.
And mixed into all that, Willow loses her virginity, as Buffy:TVS calls on the tried-and-true “high school girl loses her virginity because we’ve declared war/ the Cubans have missiles/ Kennedy is dead or anything else that rocks the brain enough.” It’s sweet, though, and Willow registers erotic aftershocks for the rest of the episode. (Witness Oz blowing on her neck at the computer while they hunt for Faith’s address.)
Ah, well. That’s it for this week, guys.
Cordelia: (to Xander) “You’ve really mastered the power of positive giving up.”
Xander: “Yes. Men like sports. They like to watch the action movie. They eat of the beef and they enjoy to look at the bosoms.”
Joyce: “You know, Buffy, looking back at everything that’s happened... maybe I should have sent you to a different school.”
Willow: (looking at books, not finding anything useful) “If you want to make ferns invisible or communicate with shrimp, I've got the goods right here.”
Oz: “Our lives are different from other people’s.”