The fight to be homecoming queen is on. And Buffy, angry at Cordelia,
decides to join the fight. And this is a more organized, more vicious
battle than any conflict with vampires or other demons. Meanwhile, Mr.
Trick has declared Slayerfest '98. He's offering a big cash prize
to anyone who kills the slayers, Buffy and Faith. A vampire couple,
two twin human Germans and their boss, a hunter, and some really strange looking
demon are the contenders. On a lighter note, Xander and Willow begin
to feel some mutual attraction - leaving them with the problem of Oz and
Cordelia. And, to top things off, we get a look at a really scary
person, the mayor.
I have a belief that the less important the issues at stake, the more violent the conflict. This episode is a good example. Buffy often takes killing vampires lightly. But the battle for homecoming queen is a war. A war she actually plans quite thoroughly. And neither she nor Cordelia misses a trick in this conflict.
This was a nice break from the more serious issues dealt with in earlier episodes this season. And it was good to see Cordelia get a bigger role. The conflict between Cordelia and Buffy isn't really about any animosity between the two of them, but about their mutual regret about things they can't have. Buffy has to deal with her destiny. She's the slayer and enormous responsibility rests on her shoulders. Cordelia has no responsibility at all. She spends her life looking good and buying nice clothes. Not surprisingly, each wants what the other has. By running for homecoming queen, Buffy tries to get some of the glamour and popularity that come so easily to Cordelia. And by scaring off the vampire, Cordelia demonstrates that she has some of the qualities that make a slayer. The conflict ends not because one or the other has won, but because both have demonstrated they have the qualities to compete in the other's realm. They are complete beings.
Meanwhile, there are two other people who want something somebody else has: Willow and Xander. They want each other, but they belong to Oz and Cordelia. And I don't think it's any accident that Cordelia tells Buffy she loves Xander. We get that insight so we can understand what the stakes are. If Xander and Willow leave Cordelia and Oz, two reasonably nice people will be badly hurt. For all their assumed indifference, Cordelia and Oz really love Xander and Willow. And we know how tough it is being dumped. Buffy got dumped this episode and, while she hadn't been going with Scott for long, it still hurt a lot. Almost as much as losing Angel hurt.
Willow and Xander realize their mutual attraction when dressing for the homecoming dance. This is the first time these childhood friends see each other as adults. But the scene was hurt for me by the fact that these two teenagers were trying on clothes together. I realize adults (with the exception of Principal Snyder, Mrs. Summers, and Giles) are pretty much invisible in Sunnydale, but would any parents allow this? It struck me as pretty weird. But that aside, the fluke (as Willow calls it) happened. And it has consequences. They overcompensate in helping Cordelia. This leads to the guilt that has them arrange for Buffy and Cordelia to ride to the dance alone. And that leads to the confrontation of Slayerfest '98. There may be safe sex in Sunnydale, but there doesn't seem to be safe kissing.
I know many fans believe Willow and Xander should ultimately get together. I don't. I like the Willow/Oz Xander/Cordelia pairings. I think these relationships are good ones in that both partners gain from them. Willow gives Oz some stability, while he lends her some of his controlled wildness. Xander provides the criticism that brings down Cordelia - he was always the only person who criticized her and she seemed drawn to him because of that. Cordelia gives Xander the benefit of her harshly realistic understanding of the world. Cordelia is always the one to say the truth, ignoring the polite lies most of us use. I think these relationships work and I'm not sure Xander and Willow would work.
Finally, what a joy to meet the mayor. He has been a frightening and mysterious figure for some time. It's good to have some of the mystery revealed. Because of things Snyder has said in the past, we know the mayor is aware Sunnydale is on the Hellmouth. I always assumed the vendetta against Buffy was based on a misunderstanding. I assumed the mayor believed Buffy was somehow responsible for all this. After all, she always was present at scenes of demon activity. But since the mayor clearly knows she is the slayer, he knows about the slayerfest, that isn't the case. The mayor is clearly on the side of the bad guys. And he's making an alliance with the current vampire leader, Mr. Trick. And that can't lead to anything good.
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