It's graduation time. Xander and Cordelia are picking up their yearbooks and gowns for the ceremony. Cordelia disapproves of the colour, but Xander likes it. He thinks it makes him look dignified. He's sure he's going to die at graduation and he wants to look good. Willow is signing yearbooks and having hers signed. A girl comes up and they exchange signatures and well wishes and promise they will get together soon. Buffy comes by and points out that Willow hates the girl. Willow agrees, the girl tormented her for 10 years. But she's still going to miss it. Buffy says she may not go to graduation. Willow is touched by nostalgia when she uses the pop machine, she pushes root beer and it gives her coke. She asks Buffy why she's not going. She says she has to fight the mayor. Xander comes over and points out the mayor will be giving the commencement address.
A strange apartment. A man answers the door and it's Faith. He's a professor and apparently the mayor is interested in his research. Only Faith isn't there to talk, she kills him. He asks why and she says she never asked.
The mayor is at Faith's place. He's tidying up while she changes. She comes out in a pink dress, he's obviously bought it for graduation day. She says she feels stupid. He says she looks wonderful, that any boys who survive will be lined up for her. He tells her that the ascension isn't just his day, but hers too. Her chance to blossom and show the world what a powerful girl she is. He says no father could be prouder of her. She says she hopes she doesn't let him down. He says that would be impossible.
Willow arrives at school and Percy, the student she coached in Dopplegangland, shows up to thank her. He got a B- in history. She's happy for him but when Oz shows up she says she's sad that he may be killed by the mayor. She says they have to find a way to stop him.
Xander arrives late for class and finds a seat next to Anya. She asks him if he wants to do something with her that weekend. He teases her and she's actually hurt. He says he's sorry but that he isn't sure if he'll survive to the weekend. But he says if he makes it past the ascension, he'll consider it. At the mention of ascension, Anya gets a strange look.
The news of the murder is in the paper and Buffy immediately realizes it was Faith. Wesley and Giles are fencing, Giles is obviously much better. They conclude the mayor had the professor killed because he knew something. Buffy will go that night to look over the apartment. Giles tells her to be careful and warns Faith has an advantage. Buffy isn't crazy and she doesn't kill people, that gives Faith an edge. Xander comes in with Anya, who actually saw an ascension. It was 800 years ago and she says a sorcerer become the demon Lohesh. He destroyed the village within hours. Wesley points out that Lohesh is not a particularly dangerous demon. Anya says they've never seen a demon, that the demons on Earth are human/demon hybrids. The mayor will become a pure demon and they are different. Bigger for one thing.
Meanwhile, Snyder is showing the mayor around the site for graduation. The mayor appears to be in a good mood, telling Snyder to call him Richard. He says Snyder is owed a debt by the city and the mayor intends to see he is paid in full.
In the library, Anya says the rituals the mayor is following aren't the ones for Lohesh. Willow and Oz show up. The mayor shows up. Buffy hides the newspaper. Buffy makes one of her wisecracks and the mayor tells Giles he's raised a spunky girl. The mayor says he'll eat her. Giles stabs the mayor with his sword, but of course the mayor is unharmed. He says Giles shouldn't act violently in front of the children. He tells them some of their deaths will be quick.
Xander runs after Anya who is intent on getting as far out of town as she can. He says they need her. She says the only smart thing to do is run. Cordelia comes up and Xander tells her what happened. They decide to skip fifth period together.
Buffy is at home packing her mother's bags. She wants Joyce to leave town. Joyce wants to stay for graduation, but Buffy says she won't be able to concentrate on the mayor if she's worried about her mother. Willow and Oz are at her place. Willow is searching for a spell to defeat the mayor. She still hasn't turned Amy back into a human. She becomes depressed, believing she won't find a spell. She's upset at Oz's ironic detachment. She tells him she'd prefer he panic. Panic is something couples can share in a time of crisis. Oz leaps forward and kisses her. She asks what he's doing, he says he's panicking. They fall back on the bed.
Buffy is at the professor's apartment. Angel shows up, Giles sent him. Buffy hasn't found much, just some papers including a report on an excavation of a lava bed. The professor was a volcanologist. Angel takes the box of papers and carries it for her. Outside, they argue. Buffy wants Angel to leave. She's still upset about their break up and doesn't want him around. As they are in the street arguing, Angel is shot through the chest by an arrow. Faith is on the roof of the cinema with a vampire. She shot him. She tells the vampire she missed the heart purposefully.
At the library, Buffy is patching up Angel while Wesley is reading the papers she's brought. The professor wrote about discovering what he thought was a unknown type of dinosaur buried in the lava. But they think it is a demon. And this may mean the mayor can be killed after the ascension, although he is impervious to harm now. Buffy finishes bandaging Angel but he collapses as soon as he gets up. It's poison. Giles says they should move Angel to his own place before sunrise. Wesley says he'll contact the council about poisons.
Willow and Oz are having postcoital conversation. Oz agrees with Willow that everything is different now. The phone rings and after listening for a second, Willow tells Oz they have to go.
At the mayor's office, he's getting ready to eat some of those spider things from the box of Gavrok. He explains this to Faith who comes to tell him of her success with Angel. He tells her she can go home. He calls her a little firecracker and this reminds her of her mother who used the same name. She asks if he'll need her at the ascension and he says always. She tells him a story about her childhood when the kids used to swim in an old quarry. She would jump off from the highest rock, none of the other kids would dare. The mayor tells her to get some rest.
Willow sends Xander for magic supplies. He meets Anya who has come to ask him to leave with her. She says the thought of him dying makes her ill. He tells her he can't stay, he has to be there for his friends.
At Angel's, Buffy is looking after him. Wesley shows up to say the council won't help. It doens't help vampires, even Angel. He tells Buffy they say she must concentrate on the mayor. She tells him she's no longer going to listen to him or the council. He appeals to Giles but gets nothing. He says the mayor poisoned Angel to distract her and it's working. He says she's committing mutiny. Buffy says she prefers to think of it as graduation. She says she'll no longer obey the council or him and until the next slayer shows up, they are out of work. She leaves to help the others.
Willow has found the poison. Oz finds the cure. The victim must drain the blood of a slayer. Buffy realizes she must kill Faith. As Willow and Oz work at finding her address, Buffy arms herself. Xander tells her the fight will be to the death and he doesn't want to lose her. Buffy says she can't play kid games anymore. She says she won't get hurt. He says that's not what he means. Buffy takes Faith's knife (she left it in the library at the end of Choices).
We see Faith working out with her punching bag. Her anger manifesting itself physically. We see Buffy washing her face, trying to calm herself and control her anger before meeting Faith. Willow finds the address. Faith is in her apartment listening to music. Buffy enters and turns it off. She's dressed in a style similar to Faith. She tells Faith why she's there. Faith comments that she's dressed in big sister's clothes. Buffy says Faith claimed Buffy was like her, just holding it in. She says she's ready to cut loose. They start fighting. They fall through the window and while Faith is stunned, Buffy handcuffs them together. But the fight continues. At the library, Giles finds a reference to the demon Olvikan. He looks up a picture. The demon is huge. Meanwhile, the mayor is munching on spiders. He says he can feel his organs changing, preparing for the ascension. A vampire bursts in to tell him there is trouble at Faith's.
Meanwhile, the handcuffed slayers are bashing each other about. Faith manages to break the handcuffs. Buffy pulls out the knife. They struggle and Buffy stabs her. Faith is stunned but still has enough strength to knock Buffy down. She says Buffy has killed her, but it won't help Angel. She sees a truck driving by on the street below. She falls off the balcony into the truck and Buffy watches her body being driven away.
I'm going to miss the mayor. He's definitely the best villain Buffy has ever faced and, frankly, one of the best fictional villains I've ever encountered. He's a richly developed character. His obsessive neatness, his fear of germs, his bizarre cheerfulness are all wonderful character traits that make him a real person. I get the impression that when creating this character thought was given to what a person who had lived so long and been so evil would be like. The mayor has learnt a lot from his long life. He has great insight into human nature. And he has a lot of experience to draw upon. When he talks to Buffy and Angel in Choices, he's convincing because he talks of his own marriage and its unhappy and inevitable end. When he talks to Faith in this episode, telling her how proud he is of her and that she could never let him down, he really comes across as a proud father. But he's also being intensely manipulative. He knows that Faith will fight all the harder for him because of his kindness. This is the same man who has ordered murder without a second thought and who quickly forgets the death of his aide Allan (by Faith accidently) and the slaying of Mr. Trick (by Faith on purpose). Loyalty isn't his long suit. But he knows how to play the card when he needs to.
I've argued before that Faith belives in a moral code that says strong equals right. She sees herself as strong and she is, physically. But she's an emotional weakling and while the others have come to realize that with time the mayor saw it immediately. Realizing that Faith sought a father figure, the role Giles was already playing for Buffy and Wesley never understood, the mayor took that role. And he's all the better at it because you suspect part of him actually has the feelings he gives word to. The mayor is quite mad, capable of saying and believing something but acting in a completely opposite way. He does love Faith. But he'd kill her in a second if it suited his purpose. He is the epitome of the strong being Faith sees herself as. He's strong physically (he's invulnerable now) and he's strong emotionally. He's completely sealed off from the world around him and quite happy to destroy it.
There is a moment, in the scene where Faith tells the mayor the story about swimming in the quarry, when he seems almost to have genuine emotion for her. She exposes herself in this scene, revealing a moment of her childhood, a moment of innocence. He has used the word firecracker and that reminded her of her mother in a positive way. His parental role becomes dominant and Faith really wants to connect with him personally. This is a far cry from the Faith who came on to the mayor sexually in Dopplegangland. This is the child Faith who seeks a parent's approval. As this scene ends, they make eye contact. The mayor suddenly stops smiling and tells Faith to get some rest. She seems saddened by this response, but leaves wishing him well. He seems moody as she leaves. Perhaps the mayor has almost felt the weakness of caring for somebody else. Or perhaps he's missing the pleasure of having somebody else you care for.
In some ways, Anya is the mirror image of the mayor. He's a human who will become a demon, she's a demon who has become human. He is without feeling and she's in love with Xander. The mayor looks forward to killing, Anya is sick at the thought of Xander dying. The mayor is all smiles, Anya is all tears. The mayor has tremendous insight into people's emotions, Anya really doesn't understand. When she tells Xander he will die and he says he still must stay, I'm reminded of the Xander of The Zeppo. In that episode, Xander faced off against a resurrected corpse to save his friends from being blown up. Here, he faces off against a one time demon now girl in love with him to stick by his friends who may all be destroyed soon. In both cases, he explicitly says he's ready to die if he has to. He has the inner strength Faith wants. She's physically stronger, capable of killing pretty well anyone. But Xander is comfortable in himself. He knows what he is and what he must do. Anya can't understand that and the mayor can't give it to Faith.
Xander's inner strength comes to the fore when he talks to Buffy as she prepares to confront Faith. He knows the danger is not in her getting killed, that's a danger she's used to. The danger lies in what killing Faith will do to her. He's not afraid of losing the physical, but the spiritual Buffy. She says she can't play kid games any more. This echoes her comment to Wesley about seeing her disobedience to the council as graduation. She's moving into adulthood and that means personal responsibility and the acceptance of the wrong she may be doing.
When Buffy talks of graduation, abandoning kid games, and dresses like Faith, she is asserting her adulthood. This parallels the lovemaking between Willow and Oz. Willow loses her virginity and talks about how everything is different. Buffy kills a human and everything is different. Willow and Oz make love driven by their love of one another and by their fear of the danger they face. Buffy kills driven by her love of Angel and fear of the danger he faces. In both cases, it's the motivation more than the act that matters. In the past, Buffy has said Faith enjoys killing and her scenes with the mayor seem to demonstrate that. Buffy puts on Faith's clothes and uses her knife, but she never becomes like Faith. Killing Faith seems to shock and sadden her. And she killed Faith not to help herself or to further someone else's evil goals, but to save Angel.
We've seen three characters lose their virginity on this show. Buffy losing hers to Angel and him becoming an evil vampire because of it. Xander losing his to Faith, who turns evil shortly thereafter. And Willow losing hers to Oz,the only couple who seem to have found happiness. Angel cannot make love to Buffy because of his demonic nature and the curse that it brought him. Faith cannot find happiness because of her nature. Willow makes this point to her in Choices. Faith has had a tough life, but the choice to be good was always there. She turned aside. Angel and Buffy are learning to live with the gulf that has to be between them. Willow and Oz have found partners they can really share love with. But Faith has no one and lacks the inner strength to deal with that. Xander's fear is misplaced. He worries that Buffy will become like Faith by killing. But Faith became what she was long before that first murder. Years of taking the easy route rather than doing what had to be done damned her. Buffy has never done what is easy.
In the scene leading up to the final confrontation, Faith attempts to work out her inner rage by using her punching bag. Earlier she had asked the mayor if there were someone she could kill or maim. Violence is the only release she has. And release is what she needs. Buffy splashes water on her face and looks to establish control over her emotions. She's deeply upset by what is happening. But she's not letting her feelings control her. She's using her feelings to give her strength. This is the difference between Faith and Buffy. Faith kills, Buffy slays.
Some quick final thoughts. Is Faith really dead? She might well survive. Cordelia and Xander had a pleasant exchange again this episode. And Anya clearly has strong feelings for Xander. Might he patch things up with Cordelia or start over with Anya? I doubt Anya has really left. I'm pretty sure that when the mayor says he would see the debt owed Snyder was paid, he meant he would kill him. If the mayor is the father substitute for Faith, Giles has that role for Buffy. And when the mayor refers to Giles raising Buffy, he's really hammering that point home. I think he's also emphasizing the role he plays with Faith and how the watchers have failed there. And he thinks he has the better slayer. We never see Joyce leave town and I have to wonder if she doesn't show up. Perhaps as a captive of the mayor.
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