Buffy the Vampire Slayer - The Prom

"Mighty fine shindig."
- Malcolm Reynolds, Firefly

Today's selection: "The Prom," the penultimate story of the third season of

Buffy fans know that season 3 ends with the (awesome) two-parter "Graduation Day." If you were watching the show back when it was on the air, you might remember that there was a two-month gap between pts. 1 and 2. The WB Network felt uncomfortable airing the 2nd part (which features apocalyptic high school destruction and students handling firearms in school) so soon after the Columbine school shooting. 

I remember the controversy (summer of '99, though I only came to Buffy years later via DVD) and Seth Green and Sarah Michelle Geller speaking out against the WB's decision. At the time, it was a question of whether such things would inspire copycat massacres. It's a little uncomfortable reflecting on this in 2015, having seen so many more of these awful school shootings. I suspect the same thing I suspected in 1999, that whatever decisions you make with things like Buffy the Vampire Slayer neither deter nor inspire horrific crimes. But it's worth noting that the idea of a Columbine-level school shooting was so horrific and unprecedented in 1999 that a decision like this was made in the first place.

Too bad the real world doesn't have a Buffy looking out for it. But that's why we create Buffies and Batmen in the first place.

Anyway, let's not be grim - we're here to praise! "The Prom" is both prom-tv-tastic and Buffy-TV-tastic, for lack of a less-dumb-sounding term. Buffy fans all have their own favorite eras; mine is about mid-season-two through mid-season-four, so "The Prom" is right in the sweet spot for me.

In case your life has yet to be illuminated by the show, the set-up for Buffy the Vampire Slayer is pretty much summed up in the title. She's the Slayer, the latest in a line of young women endowed with superhuman strength and agility who are called on by fate to protect humanity against the hordes of vampires, demons, and other undead that spew forth from the hellmouth under Sunnydale High. Aiding her in this quest are her on-again, off-again vampire soul mate Angel (David Boreanaz), her best friend Willow, popular gal Cordelia -

wisecracking sidekick Xander (Nicholas Brendon), part-time werewolf Oz (Seth Green), and librarian/ Watcher Giles. 

Played by Anthony Stewart Head.

Buffy was two parts Claremont's X-Men and one part Dungeons and Dragons. Or maybe the other away around. Maybe a little Heathers, too. However you slice it, it was and is fantastic TV. To say it changed the face of television might be an overstatement (though the internet's favorite TV critic seems to think it did), but it's definitely cast a long shadow. Like each of Joss Whedon's shows, it inspired its own passionate (and ongoing) fan-base. The Buffyverse continues in comics (primarily) to this day. 

As for 

the episode begins with Buffy and Angel in bed. (Just cuddling, of course; having sex with Buffy turns Angel into a monster.) Buffy talks about maybe bringing some of her things over to his place so she can stay the night more often. She also mentions the upcoming prom, which he, being 243 years old, "doesn't exactly get." 

When Buffy's Mom visits to remind him that whatever else she is, she's still just a teenage girl - this sounds creepier than it actually is in the episode - Angel's ambivalence increases.
Ultimately resulting in this dream sequence:

The dream is the final straw. After arguing on their next patrol, Angel breaks up with her, telling her she deserves to have all those things in life he can't give her. Buffy, naturally, is devastated.

The Angel/Buffy relationship was a defining characteristic of the show, but with Angel spinning off into its own show, they had to do something about it. Choosing this pre-Ascension prom episode as the one to cut the cord was definitely the right move. 

Giles is sympathetic, to a point.

Never mind the ascension for now; it's outside our TV Prom theme. But there is a supernatural threat, which is brought to everyone's attention when Xander and Cordelia are attacked by some manner of hell-beast at April Fool's, the clothes store where Cordy works. 

Charisma Carpenter jumped ship for Angel as well after Season 3.
As did Alexis Denisof (Wesley, the Watcher who joined the cast specifically for the ascension.)

There's some nice character-arc-wrap-up stuff between Xander and Cordelia. Cordy is working at the store because she has to in order to pay for her prom dress; she's been in the poor house since her father got busted for tax fraud. ("Now you can run along and tell your friends that Cordy finally got hers. And how she has to wear a nametag. I'm a name-tag person. Don't leave that out.") Cordy and Xander used to have a thing but it ended badly (long story), but Xander tries to make up for things by anonymously paying for her dress.

Wesley approves. (He and Cordy had a bit of a will-they-or-won't-they, as well.)

Anyway, the hell-beast who tore apart April Fool's turns out to be more specifically a hell-hound. When the Scooby Gang studies the store-video of the attack, Oz recognizes the guy standing around outside as one Tucker Wells, with whom Oz shared a chemistrylab. ("Let me guess. He was quiet, kept to himself but always seemed like such a nice young man.") They then discover a voicemail Tucker left for another friend - "Those Sunnydale High lemmings have no idea what awaits them. Their big night will be their last night!"

Tucker, it turns out, has plans to ruin prom night by sending a hell-hound trained to attack those in formal wear to the dance.
"So... that's how you brainwashed the hounds to go psycho on prom?"

Buffy is determined not to let Tucker Wells ruin her friends's prom, nor hers, which she resolves to attend despite the whole break-up with Angel.

Buffy tracks Tucker down (running into Angel at the butcher's where Tucker got his cow brains to feed the hell-hounds, and where Angel gets his cow's plasma) and easily subdues him. ("Luckily for me, you're an incompetent maladjust.") She doesn't care to learn his reasons for why he instigated this hell-hound plan, but we-the-audience are treated to this hilariously quick flashback:

And that's all it took.

Turns out it's hellhounds, plural, but Buffy easily enough subdues those, as well.
This screencap also-known-as Reason Number 43 My Wife Won't Watch Buffy.

Threat dispatched, let's have a look at the prom sequence, which is the real heart of the episode.

Anya (a vengeance demon, played by Emma Caulfield) and Xander become an item in Season 4. This is a nice precursor to that.
Oz and Willow enjoy themselves. (Also a nice precursor to Season 4.)
And as for Buffy...

After she arrives and tells everyone the problem's taken care of, she's surprised to hear her name called out from the stage by the head of the prom committee (recurring Buffy foil Jonathan Levinson), who delivers the following speech:

"We're not good friends. Most of us never found the time to get to know you. But that doesn't mean we haven't noticed you. We don't talk about it much, but it's not secret that Sunnydale High isn't really like other high schools. A lot of weird stuff happens here."

(From the crowd: "Zombies!" "Hyena people!" "Snyder!")

"But whenever there was a problem or something creepy happened, you seemed to show up and stop it. Most of the people here have been saved by you, or helped by you, at one time or another. We're proud to say that the class of '99 has the lowest mortality rate of any graduating class in Sunnydale history. And we know at least part of that is because of you. So the senior class offers its thanks and gives you this:

"It's from all of us, and it has written here: "Buffy Summers: Class Protector."

Noel Murray considered 'The Prom' a "nice, low-stakes palate-cleanser before the coming apocalypse. In some ways it’s the most 'high school-y' episode of the series, because more than anything, it’s an adolescent fantasy come to life. What sullen high school student hasn’t dreamed of the day when his or her classmates would finally appreciate them?" 

Exactly. It's a fantastic intersection of series mythos and adolescent wish fulfillment. 

This episode is recalled memorably in the Season 4 episode "Superstar." Man! Let's all do a Buffy re-watch, for real. 

Songs: "Wild Horses" by The Sundays and "Praise You" by Fatboy Slim. (Some fine prom music, there.)



  1. Nice write-up, Bryan. Totally captures a lot of what makes Buffy great, IMO.

    Anya asking Xander to prom was also just great fun. :-)


  2. I came to "Buffy" both early and late, by which I mean that I saw the movie in a theatre when it was released, didn't think much of it, and consequently refused to even entertain the notion of watching the tv version. This lasted until...oh, probably during the sixth or maybe even the seventh season, at which point a friend whose judgment I trusted finally convinced me to give it a shot. (And even then, it wasn't an easy sell.)

    I finally did try it, though, and while the first season didn't exactly bowl me over, by the time we made it to the second season, I was in.

    It's been long enough now since I watched it and "Angel" that my memory of both is starting to fade. Which means it's approaching time to put those complete-series DVD sets I own to use!

    I sympathize with your wife's 43 (or more) reasons for not wanting to watch the show. It's like a lot of genre shows in that if you take some of the crazier moments out of context, it looks like it's just the worst thing on Earth. "Buffy" might be moreso than most, though; those hell-hounds look friggin' ridiculous even to my eyes, and I know for a fact that this is a terrific episode! It's all about context, though. That's true of the whole series; it's one for which the whole vastly exceeds the sum total of the individual parts.

    The series was so well-suited to be an exploration of high school that the prom episode was almost always destined to be a winner. Luckily, this one does not disappoint. For a lot of people, the series fell off a cliff after this season, once the high-school backdrop was gone. I enjoyed the series all the way through, but it's easy to see why people would feel that once Buffy graduated, the story was essentially over. I don't agree, but I do sympathize.

    1. I know some of these people you speak of. For me, I love the first half of season 4, then it kind of powers down for me. I love the character developments of the next few years, and then season 7 is fantastic. It's such a great show, all around, but I agree: more than most, it has its out-of-context alienating moments (particularly all the ridged foreheads).

      That stuff is fun, once embraced, but like you say, I sympathize to those who can't get there.

      And I further agree that a rewatch of all this stuff is overdue in my life! And yet... I'll have to put it off a bit longer.

      Did you ever cover any of the Buffy comics for Bryant Has Issues? I can't recall off the top of my head.

    2. I did, but I don't believe I covered many (if any) of them in any great detail. I lost interest in the comics at a certain point. I kind of wish I'd kept buying them, just so I had them; but I didn't. They were really good for a while there, though, especially while Whedon himself was writing them. He took them into some unexpected places, which is a good thing; as with the tv series, he was not content to just do the same thing over and over, which is precisely why it remains so vital.