Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Episode: “Graduation Part 2” (July 13, 1999)
Synopsis by Jason Henderson
This is it! See! The impressionable youth of Sunnydale turn on a demonic Mayor! See! Buffy and Angel in passion's dark embrace! See! Thee episode that made the WB run in terror: Buffy’s Graduation.
Buffy: Sarah Michelle Gellar
Willow: Alyson Hannigan
Xander: Nicholas Brendan
Faith: Elizabeth Dushku
Oz: Seth Green
Angel: David Boreanaz
Giles: Anthony Stewart Head
Cordelia: Charisma Carpenter
We open with Buffy at Faith’s apartment, watching the critically wounded evil Slayer Faith escape Buffy’s grasp in the back of a truck. Buffy slinks out of the apartment as the Mayor comes in; he’s livid that Faith is lost and puts vampires on the search, moaning to himself, “She’ll be all right.”
Giles and Xander are still researching the Mayor’s demon-form-to-be and coming up with nothing when Cordelia storms into the library, demanding to know why Wesley is leaving. Giles fills her in: Buffy fired the Watcher Council last episode, Wesley has no more cause to be here. Cordy’s upset, but she hits the books with them.
Angel, meanwhile, is delirious from the poisoning he received last episode. Willow and Oz watch over him and make goo-goo eyes at one another until Buffy arrives in failure. Left alone with Angel, Buffy begs Angel to drink from her: only the blood of a Slayer will save him. This takes some convincing, by which I mean punching Angel in the mouth until he gets irritated enough to bite her. Angel does drink from Buffy, leaving her in a state of anemic shock.
So it’s off to the hospital with Buffy, where Angel has a run-in with the Mayor, who has found Faith’s body and brought it in. Faith has severe head trauma and may never come out of her coma, and the Mayor is angry enough to try suffocating Buffy in her hospital bed. The Mayor threatens Buffy and Angel and storms out.
Angel reveals to the Slayer Gang that he fed off Buffy; they’re not sympathetic.
Meanwhile, the comatose Slayers seem to meet in their minds, in what appears to be Faith’s apartment. She gives Buffy a clue: “The deal is... human weakness never fades. Not even [the mayor’s.]” Faith says she’s giving all of her things to Buffy, but Buffy can’t take it all. “Then take what you need,” Faith says. And like that, Buffy awakens, ready for war in Act III.
The Mayor’s human weakness, of course, is his attachment to Faith. “I can work that,” Buffy says, as she and the Gang lay out their plans for the upcoming ascension. Vampire Angel can help because it appears there will be a solar eclipse. Even Wesley the fired Watcher offers to lend a trembling hand. But they’ll need to destroy the serpent with a tremendous amount of explosive force. They need to gather materiel.
While the Gang reach out to other students who owe them a favor for help, Cordy and Wesley finally share a kiss—and discover they share no chemistry whatsoever. So ends a subplot. The other couples spin for us: Oz and Willow tense but determined; Angel announcing that when this is over, he won’t say goodbye; he’ll just go.
Time to graduate.
The Mayor appears at Graduation to make his speech, only to be interrupted halfway through by the solar eclipse, hastening his transformation into a big frog that plays banjo as he sings, “It’s not easy being green.” No, no. He becomes a serpent. We all knew that.
But surprise! Buffy has armed the entire Senior Class, and as she shouts, “Now,” Xander takes the lead, calling on his brief sojourn into the mind of a marine to lead an infantry of students bearing flame-throwers, bows-and-arrows, and harpoon guns. Principal Snyder appears to go completely insane, telling the serpent he demands quiet, before the Mayor swallows him whole.
While the schoolyard erupts in pitched melee, Buffy taunts the serpent about Faith’s injuries, getting the serpent to follow her deep into the library, where lie tons and tons of fertilizer and fuel. Buffy heads out a window and Giles hits a detonator, and the serpent -- and Sunnydale High -- are blown to kingdom come.
Afterwards, Wesley is whimpering, Giles is congratulatory, and Angel disappears in a cloud of smoke without saying goodbye. We close with the Gang -- Buffy, Willow, Oz, Xander and Cordelia -- basking in triumph, then turning to walk away from the campus forever.
Finally! You've all heard the controversy surrounding this episode after Columbine, so it's almost odd to finally get around to the episode itself, which is exciting but, really, just Buffy. There are a lot of great points about Graduation, though.
The first is the expertly carved structure of the episode as a whole, proving again that Buffy is an expertly written show. The whole thing breaks down into a handful of sequences that move the plot along from act to act: the Angel in crisis sequence, followed by the hospital sequence, the preparation sequence, and finally the ascension climax. Even the Mayor himself pays a nod to the clockwork structure of the script when he fights with Angel in the hospital. "I can't wait for Act III."
I was particularly impressed with the Mayor’s genuine concern for Faith when he discovers she's missing. We've seen before the father/daughter connection between Hizzonner and the bad Slayer, but it's always had a tinge of disfuncionality. Here, he's a genuinely worried father, muttering, "She'll be all right. She'll be all right."
The sequence involving Angel drinking Buffy’s blood is surprising and a little tragic at first. Angel doesn't want to save himself by feeding off his ex-girlfriend, and Buffy cruelly pushes him into it. Then, the actual drinking is more erotic than frightening, the two crumpled together in a hyperventilating, furniture-breaking mass on the floor, making it almost ironic (dramatically, anyway) that Angel preferred to do this with Faith. Of course, Xander acts as Angel's conscience, accusing Angel of cowardice for saving himself at Buffy's expense even as the rest of the Gang understands rather quickly.
As I watched the whole hospital sequence, with the Mayor reeling from Faith's coma and attacking Buffy and Angel, I thought once again how well drawn a bad guy the Mayor is. How many powerful, evil politicians have we seen in movies and TV, thousands? And yet Mayor Wilkins is just strange enough to be memorable. He's like something out of Norman Rockwell's mirror-mirror universe.
The shared-coma sequence between Faith and Buffy is a wonderful moment. Faith speaks in riddles and gives Buffy the means to destroy her evil father figure. This is a sweet, gentle moment. Note, by the way, the image of Faith that pulses in and out of view where the cat sits on the bed. Murderous and sadistic though she may have become under the Mayor's wing, Faith has been an unfortunate character from her first appearance. She's had a lousy rap even in the Slayer world, with no watcher to call her own, and no real reason to exist since Buffy is still around. But no one wants her to die like this.
It's exquisitely gratifying that the school explodes in the end (although it strikes me now that this was probably the thing that bothered the network the most.) On the face of it you have the head delinquent of the school teaming up with the librarian she creepily hangs out with to blow the school to bits. (From the library -- another unfortunate Columbine parallel.) But that's just the face: what's really going on is a delightful high school graduate fantasy. As our hero graduates, the school disappears, and so does the principal. Who doesn't fantasize that our old haunts may as well be razed once we've swept the dust of them from our feet?
Incidentally, the death Principal Snyder leaves a number of forever-unanswered questions: how much did this little man know? We've seen along the way that he was sort of a hired gun brought in to handle a school on a Hellmouth. Yet, in the final sequence, he appears to have lost touch with reality, demanding order from a graduation-crashing serpent and a bunch of flame-thrower-wielding students at war with an army of vampires. Is he insane? Is he from his own dimension, where this sort of thing happens all the time? The secrets of Professor Snyder the rat-boy lie scattered through the ashes of Sunnydale High, now.
We get to see Xander the Zeppo suddenly become not so Zeppo. It might be hokey, but the plot device of "calling on Xander's military training" is a good choice, especially because it suggests that other episodes have ramifications, even the subplots.
Willow and Oz are really sweet and cute and darling and inspiring. It is time for them to break up now.
Last but not least, the “Prep for War” sequence is just perfect, a lovely montage that slides from the Buffy side to the Mayor’s side the way they used to do with Cowboys and Indians. Watching it, you just have to sit back and admire the expert skill behind it, the editing, the dialogue that feeds seamlessly from character to character, the tension of what could have been a dull interlude between action scenes. Good writing.
And that's it for this year, although questions linger. Who will be back? Everyone who's still alive? Will Buffy, Willow, Xander and Oz be like Dobie Gillis and Maynard G. Krebs or the 90210 gang; they'll be at the local community college next year? And will anyone remember to feed Amy the witch, who's still a mouse?
My prediction about someone who will be back: Faith. And maybe a very different Faith.
And why will Charisma Carpenter be on Angel?
All this and more, I guess...
“Well, does he have to leave the country? I mean, you got fired and you still hang around like a big loser; why can’t he?”
-- Cordelia, wondering why two fired watchers can't hang around
“Well, looks like somebody’s been eating his spinach.”
-- The Mayor to the freshly blooded Angel
“Well it’s just good to know that when the chips are down and things look grim you’ll feed off the girl that loves you to save your own ass.”
-- Xander, getting one of the very last anti-Angel digs in before the end of the Sunnyvale High Cycle.
“Sorry. My head. Lot of new stuff.”
-- Faith, from deep within her coma. Girl will be back, just you watch.
“At the hospital, he was grieving. Seriously crazed, and not just in a homicidal, I-want-to-be-a-demon way.”
-- Angel on the Mayor
“It has begun. My destiny. It’s a little sooner than I expected -- I had this whole section on civic pride.”
-- The Mayor
“Guys, take a moment to deal with this. We survived... not the battle, but High School. We’re taking a moment. And we’re done.”
-- Oz. So ends a chapter.