Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Graduation Part 2

Summary

We begin where the last episode ended. Buffy is on the balcony of Faith's apartment having seen her body being driven off in the truck she dropped on to. She climbs down the fire escape to the street below. The mayor comes in and sees Faith is gone. He yells at his vampire assistant to get everybody out looking for her. He tries to convince himself that she'll be alright.

Xander and Giles are in the library. Xander brings Giles coffee. He's drinking coffee because tea is soothing and he wants to be tense. They are searching for some reference to the demon Olvikan. So far, they've found nothing. Cordelia comes in demanding to know why Wesley is leaving the country. Giles tells her Buffy has quit the council. He says Buffy no longer needs a watcher. She asks why Wesley can't stay, since Giles does. Xander asks her to help with the research and she agrees, but as she sits she complains about Buffy always thinking of herself.

At Angel's, Willow is tending the sick Angel. He comes to and starts kissing her hand, telling her he was wrong to say he would leave and that he can't. She realizes he thinks she's Buffy and corrects him. He goes back to sleep and she walks into the next room to talk to Oz. She tells him Angel is delirious and mistook her for Buffy. He says "You too". She's worried Buffy might not get back before Angel dies. She says she feels guilty because terrible things have happened, yet it is the best night of her life (referring to making love with Oz earlier). They kiss and a sad Buffy walks in.

Buffy asks to be left alone with Angel and Willow and Oz leave. She tells Angel that she can cure him, that he needs the blood of a slayer. He suggests Faith and Buffy tells him she killed her. She tells him to drink her. He says it will kill her but she says not if he doesn't take it all. He refuses and tries to flee. She stops him and starts hitting him, eventually triggering his vampire reflex. He bites her neck and starts drinking. They fall to the ground. As he drinks Buffy grabs and breaks a bowl and kicks a table shattering it. Finally, he stops. Buffy is unconscious.

Angel rushes into a hospital emergency room carrying Buffy. He tells them she was bitten by something and has lost a lot of blood. The doctor suspects they are on drugs, but Angel insists Buffy is clean and the doctor believes him. Angel goes to telephone the others. As he calls, we see the mayor is another room nearby. Faith is there. She has been severely injured and the doctor says it is unlikely she will ever awaken from her coma. The mayor runs his hand along her face, smoothing her hair. He hears the nurse telling the doctor there is another young woman in with severe blood loss. He realizes who it must be. He walks into Buffy's room and puts his hand over mouth and nose, apparently trying to suffocate her. A nurse sees him and yells. Angel pulls him away. The mayor is in a rage. He tells Angel that misery loves company and he intends to share his pain with Angel and his whore. Enraged, Angel throws him against the wall. When the mayor gets to his feet, he's regained his self control. He tells Angel there will be an intermission, but the second act will be very exciting, and he leaves. Giles, Willow, Oz, and Xander enter. Angel tells them what happened to Buffy and Faith. Xander is tough on him, saying when the chips were down he was willing to drain his friend's blood. Angel has no reply. Morning is near and he leaves.

Buffy is walking in Faith's apartment. It's full of boxes as if someone is packing to leave. Faith, completely healed, shows up. There's a cat and Faith says it should look after itself. Buffy says there is something she has to do. Faith says "Miles to go. Little Miss Muffet counting down from 7-3-0". Buffy complains about riddles. Faith apologizes saying her head is full of new stuff. She looks at the broken window and says they're never going to fix it. The cat on the bed briefly morphs into Faith on her sickbed. Buffy asks about Faith. She gestures to her face and says 'Scar tissue, it fades". Buffy looks down at her hand and the knife she attacked Faith with appears and vanishes. Faith tells her that the secret is human weakness, that it never fades, not even for the mayor. Buffy asks if this is her mind or Faith's. Faith doesn't know. She says it's almost time. Buffy asks how she will fit all her stuff in the boxes. Faith says it's for Buffy. Buffy says it's too much and Faith says to just take what she needs. She reaches to touch Buffy and Buffy awakens in her hospital bed.

Buffy gets up and walks into the room where Faith is. She leans over and kisses her on the forehead. She dresses and goes out to where the others are. She asks for Angel. She says they must get him and everybody else. She is ready for war.

While an uneasy Snyder surveys the scene of the soon to happen graduation ceremonies, Buffy and the gang meet in the library. She has finished describing her plan and they are trying to decide whether crazy is the right word to describe it. Cordelia says she doesn't think it's possible to come up with a crazier plan. Oz suggests attacking the mayor with hummus and Cordelia admits he is right. He's just trying to keep things in perspective. Cordelia says it is the only plan anyone has and since it is Buffy's, it's probably a good one. Buffy says she will need all of them onboard, especially Xander who will be the key figure. He moves through pride, humility, and mind-numbing fear before asking what he has to do. She says she needs the military knowledge he acquired when transformed into a soldier in the Hallowe'en episode. Giles points out her plan requires her to control the mayor. She says Faith told her to use his human weakness. Willow asks if Faith said this before or after being put in a coma and when Buffy says after there is some confusion. Angel says the mayor is nervous about germs. Cordelia suggests getting a box marked ebola virus and chasing him with it. Xander thinks the hummus idea is beginning to look good.

Angel says the mayor's weakness is Faith. That he was genuinely grieving for her at the hospital. Buffy thinks she can work this. Wesley enters and says they don't have much time. Buffy says he's not wanted, but he says he's not there for the council but just to help. Cordelia says he's classy. Buffy says it's a start. She gets up and says "Ok, this is how it's". We cut to the mayor's office where he is talking to his vampire aides and he completes the sentence "it's going to lay out". He says his transformation will begin at 3:28 just as he finishes his speech. He regrets the vampires having to miss it, since he's been working on it for a hundred years. He says the people will run and he wants the vampires there to stop them. They say it will be sunny, but he says that won't be a problem. We cut back to the library where Wesley has found a text indicating there will be an eclipse during the ascension. That means Angel can be there. But Xander points out he will still be the key guy. We cut back to the mayor's office where he shows the sewer plans to his vampires and talks about containing the crowd. He must feed to sustain his ascension. He wants the vampires to kill, but not feed. Back in the library, Willow and Oz are working on killing the demon, something that took a volcano before. They have an idea and Xander can get the materials. Giles will perform the deed. Buffy leaves to get something. At his office, the mayor is reminding his vampires to be fast and brutal. He says the world will be changed by nightfall. And he tells them to watch the swearing.

Xander and Willow start gathering students to help them. Cordelia and Wesley are packing the books in the library. He tells Cordelia that when it is over, he'll be going back to England. He says he has no reason to stay, that he's not needed or wanted. They kiss. It's obviously not a very good kiss. They try it again. Cordelia wipes her mouth. She wishes Wesley good luck in England. He says he'll drop her a line. She says that'll be neat. Meanwhile, Willow and Oz are handing over some bags to two other students and tell them to take this load and put it with the rest. They've brought the bags in a van and after the others go, they get in the van. Willow says she's worried but Oz says everything will be alright. They kiss, it's obviously a very good kiss. Willow asks how much time they have before graduation. Oz says a while.

At the library, Angel is sorting through weapons. Buffy returns carrying a bundle. She says they will need more and Angel says Giles is on it. He asks how she is and she says she heals fast, like Angel. He tells her he won't say goodbye. That when the battle is over, he'll just leave. He walks out and Buffy opens the bundle to reveal the knife she stabbed Faith with. The knife the mayor gave Faith.

At last, the graduation ceremony begins. Snyder makes a few deprecating remarks, telling the students that they have all been more or less adequate. He introduces the mayor, Richard Wilkins III. A disheveled Willow and Oz rush in as the mayor gets up to speak. Willow sits beside Buffy. The mayor begins his speech. He tells them it is the 100th anniversary of the founding of Sunnydale. But that he knows they are more interested in their graduation. That all the work, the pain, and the excitement are over. Buffy realizes he is going to make his whole speech, the evil of it all. The mayor says maybe they have a place in Sunnydale history whether they like it or not. He talks about the long road it took to get there, including grief and loss. He says some people who should be there aren't. He tells them the day is about change. That graduation means change, it means ascending to a higher level.

As he speaks, the sky darkens. It's the eclipse. The mayor starts wincing in pain. He's beginning to change. It's happening sooner than he expected. He won't get to do the bit in his speech about civic pride. But they'll skip to the big finish. He transforms into a giant lizardlike creature. A kind of dinosaur. Buffy shouts to the students and they toss off their gowns revealing weapons. They attack the demon with flamethrowers and crossbows. We see axes and swords. Xander is generaling the assault. Some flee and the vampire who have come behind get them. Xander turns his bowmen on them and they shoot flaming arrows destroying some of the vampires. Buffy yells to fall back. The bowmen fire on the vampires again. Then the vampires are confronted by Angel and Wesley plus a gang of others from the school. They start hand-to-hand. Snyder reprimands the demon, telling him he's on his campus and must behave. The demon eats him. Buffy orders them to fall back again. Willow wishes her luck. Xander leads the students down to attack the vampires. There is pitched hand-to-hand combat. Cordelia stakes a vampire. Wesley is lying on the ground calling for help.

Buffy confronts the mayor. She shows him the knife and tells him how she stuck it into Faith. She yells at him to get it back from her. She runs into the school and the demon follows, smashing through the wall. She leads him to the library and then jumps out the window. The demon looks around to see the library piled high with highly flammable and explosive material. He says "well gosh". Buffy runs to Giles who sets off a bomb blowing the library and the demon sky high.

The police and fire department have arrived and are cleaning up the mess. Wesley is wheeled into an ambulance. Xander and Buffy are walking through the desolation. Buffy keeps looking around, searching. Xander tells her Angel survived the fight and that he must have left after. Xander leaves her. Giles comes over and asks how she is. She says she has not processed all that has happened yet. That she isn't functioning on the higher levels. She's just capable of "fire bad, tree pretty". He gives her her diploma, which he has dug out of the wreckage. Surveying the scene, he says there is a dramatic irony in it "a synchronicity bordering on predestination". Buffy says, "fire bad, tree pretty". Giles goes to look after Wesley. She turns around to see Angel staring at her. They look at each other for a moment. Then Angel walks away, saying nothing.

Willow, Oz, Xander, and Cordelia are watching the fire trucks leave. Buffy comes over. She says she needs some sleep. Oz says they should take a moment to recognize that they survived. Buffy says it was a hell of a battle, but Oz says he's talking about high school. For a second or two they are silent, looking at the wreckage. Then they leave. Oz puts his arm around Willow, Buffy walks with the two of them, and Cordelia and Xander walk together. The camera pans back to show one of the graduation programmes, "The future is ours".

Analysis

I misjudged the mayor. In my review of Graduation Part I, I suggested that he lacked normal human feelings and that his love of Faith was feigned. I was wrong. As he demonstrated when he rushed to her apartment, when he shouted at his vampire aide to find her, when he stood in her apartment surveying the ruin and talking to himself trying to convince himself that she would be alright, when he stood at her bedside, when he finally lost control and tried to kill Buffy, and when he talks about grief and loss in his speech and those who should be there but are not; Faith really did mean a lot to him. He calls Buffy a whore, language the mayor has never used. In all the time we've seen the mayor, he has never lost control. He's always been in command of the situation and of himself. But he loses it when he sees the soon to recover Buffy lying only a few feet from the never to awaken Faith. He really did care for her and I guess she was willing to die for him because of that.

And, as Giles points out, there is a delicious irony in the mayor's demise being linked to his sole redeeming characteristic, his genuine paternal feelings for Faith. Even in his demon form, he loses control when he thinks of what happened to her. Instead of getting on with his feeding, which he has pointed out is vital, he pursues Buffy. Had he thought, as he always has in the past, he would have realized it was a trap. But Buffy preyed on his human weakness.

What made the mayor a great villain, and a tough one to defeat, was his understanding of humanity. When he confronted Buffy and Angel in Choices he demonstrated that understanding. When he sent Faith to poison Angel, knowing it would delay Buffy coming after him, he demonstrated it again. But that understanding came at a price. The mayor was human and had the frailties associated with that state. To understand love and how it can incapacitate you, he had to experience it as well.

At the end of the first season, Buffy died and came back to life in the battle against the Master. In the second season finale, she killed Angel and left home. This time, Buffy risks her life to save Angel (and his bite is reminiscent of the Master's bite in season one) and it is Angel who leaves. The mayor loves Faith and her almost death angers him and leads him to want to kill everyone, especially those who hurt her. Buffy is also angry, but she has learnt to control her rage and channel it. At first, she followed the mayor's path. To save Angel she was ready to kill Faith. But that fails. In Graduation Part I, Xander was afraid of losing Buffy, not through death but through her becoming like Faith. The clothes she chose to wore to her confrontation with Faith symbolized their similarities, but her method of preparation and her motivation was proof of their differences. Faith was driven by a murderous rage incited by nothing more than her own general unhappiness. Buffy by a controlled anger caused by harm done to those she loves. This gives her the strength to defeat Faith, but not to save Angel. She ultimately saves him through self-sacrifice. The mayor is eager to sacrifice others on the altar of his ambition. Buffy sacrifices herself to save one she loves. Even though she knows that Angel will leave her. Last week, Buffy referred to herself as graduating when she broke with the council. The second part of that graduation came when she fully renounced the Nietzschean philosophy of Faith (the strong can take what they want because strength = morality) and adopted the philosophy of altruism, benefiting society through self-sacrifice. This was a message Faith could not accept and one the mayor was incapable of learning. Buffy will die for her loved ones, the mayor will kill for his.

There are a couple of interesting parallels here. In the second season, Buffy and Angel exchanged bodily fluids leading to his becoming evil again and Buffy having to send him to hell. At the end of this season, there is another exchange of bodily fluids and Angel is cured, but once again must leave. In Graduation Part I, the mayor says he'll eat Buffy. In this episode, Buffy tells Angel to drink her so he can be saved. If the Christian symbolism doesn't leap out at you, you haven't been paying attention. Buffy has died and been resurrected. She has battled demons and sacrifices herself to save mankind. Salvation from the poison of the devil is gained by drinking her blood. While Angel is drinking, Buffy is clearly capable of stopping him. The violence she does to his furniture is evidence of that. But she doesn't. She's willing to let him kill her rather than risk stopping him before he has drunk enough to cure him. Buffy resists the temptation to save herself. Her sacrifice is absolute. Although she possesses supernatural powers, she allows Angel to bite her as if she were just another human.

The dream/hallucination sequence is fascinating and I suspect not entirely coherent. The cat, which Faith says is supposed to look after itself and which Buffy interprets as a reference to a higher power, morphs into Faith in her hospital bed. Suggesting Faith was wrong about being able to look after herself and Buffy right about a higher power guiding events. A power Faith has ignored to her peril. When Faith points to herself and refers to fading scar tissue (just after looking at the broken window and saying it will never be fixed), she seems to be making a reference both to Buffy's ability to persevere despite all the terrible things that have happened and Faith's inability. Faith was able to physically heal in the past (the fading scar tissue) but spiritually was destroyed (the never to be fixed window). Her coma state is a metaphor for this, continued physical existence but no spiritual/intellectual activity. Faith (or Buffy's image of Faith) finally realizes that there is more to life than the corporeal.

I'm not sure if Faith's rambling "Miles to go. Little Miss Muffet counting down from 7-3-0" is intended to mean anything or if it simply symbolizes her confusion. She says her head is full of new things, suggesting that the destruction of her body has finally opened her to an understanding of the mental/spiritual. The "miles to go" may be a reference to the long series of battles ahead of Buffy or to the long battle Faith must wage for her recovery (again both physical and psychological). Little Miss Muffet is a stationary character - she's sitting and only moves when frightened by the spider. This may refer to Faith's new stationary lifestyle - she is trapped in her bed.

When Faith offers her possessions to Buffy, she's making the final break from the physical world of things that has dominated her. By telling Buffy to take only what she needs, she's implicitly recognizing her own failings. Faith's friendship and help were important to Buffy. Those are the things Buffy has to take from Faith. Her later betrayal is what she has to leave behind.

It's interesting that we get three relationship scenes in a row: Cordelia and Wesley unsuccessfully kissing in the library, Willow and Oz kissing and making out in the van, and Buffy and Angel talking about how they will soon part. We have the relationship that never was and never will be, the relationship that has finally blossomed, and the relationship that must end.

The mayor's speech was wonderful. Not only did it sound like every graduation speech, but it had a subtext that was clear to the characters and to the viewers. His reference to grief and loss clearly points to Faith. There is a long pause and a look of sorrow on his face when he talks of those who should be here and are not. The parallel statement (that some are there who should not be) is left unsaid but clearly thought. When the mayor told Faith it was her day too, in Graduation Part I, I thought he was merely trying to placate her because he still needed her. But when he says the same thing standing over her sick bed, only moments before trying to kill Buffy and fighting with Angel, we realize he meant it. And on that day, he was thinking of her.

Some final thoughts. The mayor is Richard Wilkins III. I'm willing to bet he was also II and I. The irony Giles talks about isn't just the mayor being destroyed because of his one decent characteristic, but about the librarian being given the job of blowing up the library. Not to mention Buffy destroying her school on graduation day after having transferred there when she burnt down her old school. Having Faith live in a coma not only allows her to miraculously return, but it also means we won't have another slayer popping up since she isn't dead. As the gang walks away, Cordelia seems to move toward Xander. Since she has rejected Wesley, maybe there is hope for that relationship yet. The actor who played the mayor was so wonderful, and the mayor so deep a character, that the demon he turned into was actually less frightening and much less interesting. Finally, I'm thrilled to learn that the germ obsession turned out to be an elaborate red herring. A good way to end the season.

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