TV - Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season 3

Previously on steven harris television, we had his thoughts on Seasons 1 and 2 so now it's Season 3's turn...

Oh those growing up pains. Well actually by the time September 1998 rolled around I was already something like a grown up in terms of years clocked up on the planet but not inside my wilfully teenaged noggin. But for Buffy, in her final year of high school, everything was about to change. As if it hadn’t already when she first discovered she was the slayer.

A revamped (tee hee, get it, re-VAMPed. I'm so funny I can barely dress myself) Nerf Herder theme tune meant the drums smacked you in the face more persistently, the bass became disappointingly set back in the mix and the opening and closing notes were given further dramatic emphasis with the addition of a tolling bell which, as we all know, is the screen signifier of DOOM! But I’m not allowed to go on about music here. This is about moving pictures and booky wooks. Ignore everything I said about the theme tune even though I’m utterly qualified to talk about it for hours. I'm available for weddings, bar mitzvahs and parties except I’m not because my evil uncle Olaf has me trapped in his cellar wearing an only gay in the village outfit.

Sorry what was I saying? Oh yes. Buffy is back and better than ever. Willow is witchier than before. Not all demons are completely bad although the big bad is super bad. Not all slayers are good. Buffy is. Of course she is. We love her to bits. We want to hold her and kiss her and hide behind her when the rough stuff starts after sundown. But then there is Faith.

Oh my god. Eliza Dushku. I may not have to say any more than her name to a certain generation of teenagers (and grown-ups masquerading as teenagers). Pneumatic, traumatic, catastrophically mental, Faith is the anti-Buffy. She’s the lesson in what happens when a slayer goes wrong. But she’s sooo cool too. Snarky, snippy, sexy, and her mere presence ups the punch of the fight scenes to five-by-five. I am now imagining Dushku and Gellar working out together to make sure they are super toned and sweaty for their fight scenes. I’ll be back shortly.

Okay, back to reality. Well not reality because of course Buffy The Vampire Slayer is a televisual sweetmeat for the eyes. And what a sweetmeat Season 3 proves to be. Bad candy makes all the adults of Sunnydale turn back into teenagers (no wonder I have such a sweet tooth, eh?) and Giles and Joyce (that’s mommy Buffy to you) do it on the bonnet of a police car. Twice. We are mostly spared the details but yay, go Joyce, go Giles! School headmaster Quark, I mean Snyder (and if you don’t know what I’m on about why do you even come to this site?) also eats of the candy and hangs with Buff and her gang for a while, proving that he was definitely the weasely twat trying to be one of the coolios when he was at school himself. Then he developed a love of pressed latinum and went into space before coming down to earth again at Sunnydale.

Zombies. We haven’t had zombies before. No point staking them. Luckily smashing the hell out of a Nigerian death mask sorts them out. Faith gets a watcher of her own who turns out to be even badder to the bone and twice as insane. She dies, Buffy says something quip-like. Calm is restored. Spike pops back for a single episode, drinking heavily, moping over the loss of Dru who has left him for siding with Buffy at the end of the previous season.

A lady demon appears. Anya’s first episode (she would later go on to become a regular cast member but is more a go-to magic clever clogs in a few eps this time around) reveals her as a vengeance demon masquerading as a high school girl. When Cordelia and Xander break up because Xander and Willow got all kissy kissy in a way that Scooby Doo fans always wanted Shaggy and Scoob to do…I mean Fred and Velma, Cordy logic means she blames Buffy and wishes the slayer had never come to Sunnydale. Wish granted, cackles Anya and a new reality is created in which the Master from Season 1 achieved his aims of leaving the force field trapping him at the hellmouth and taking over the town. We get evil vampire Willow and Xander in this reality which means Nicholas Brendon grins with pointier teeth and Alyson Hannigan oozes naughty sex like that one time at band camp. It all gets fixed but who cares – horny vampire lesbian Willow! Result.

As the season progresses things turn darker and darker. Faith kills a human and goes properly berserker on the world. Giles is sacked for helping Buffy when it comes to a stupid ritual for her 18th birthday. The new watcher is like a mini-me Giles only with no charm or charisma which means Cordelia wants to boff him. Hey it’s allowed, Charisma Carpenter was way older than she was playing as Cordy. Willow and Oz get back together despite the Xander kissing thing, which is a nice moment in an otherwise downward spiral of chaos and despair.

The Mayor is the big bad. After doing crazy magic shit to make him impervious to harm he intends to ascend as a demon which will come in the two-part season finale. The second of these episodes, along with the earlier ‘Earshot’ was postponed in the TV schedules. Both cover people going crazy (or ascending to demonship) and attempting to kill students on campus. A little bit of a difficult subject even for a comedy-horror show in the wake of April 20th 1999 when 13 people were murdered at Columbine High School (the perpetrators also died at their own hands but that’s hardly the point as they were high school kids too).

It is perhaps appropriate, then, that Season 3 was darker and the impact of all the evil at the hellmouth more deathsome. The transition from youth to alleged adulthood is tricky enough for anyone, let alone a slayer. For those with mental health problems or for those who feel otherwise different and ostracised, Buffy has a positive message – the slayer and all her friends might be seen as freaks by some but they are unique individuals who all find community and a sense of self together by, mostly, acting for the greater good.

Angel was written out to go and be in his own show after this season. Cordelia buggered off too, her Valley-girl snobbery and bitchy comebacks having been somewhat neutered by the gore she has been exposed to for the previous three years. Willow actually gets some of the best lines in the series. Such as “That's me as a vampire? I'm so evil and...skanky. And I think I'm kinda gay.” Her character arguably grows the most. Xander is still the same sort of wide-mouthed coward who will nevertheless stand up to be counted when it comes to the crunch. Giles is funnier and more fatherly than ever when seen through the mirror of Wesley, the new watcher. Angel stands around looking like a steroid advert a lot. Oz is a taciturn man who I constantly want to start speaking in his Chris Griffin voice.

And Buffy? Buffy’s our girl. She realises by the end of the season that while being the slayer might limit her future options in a way that won’t prevent her friends from choosing to live entirely different lives if they wish, she doesn’t do it out of compulsion but because it must be done. Faith is an interesting name for a character who basically shows Buffy her own future if she decides to turn her back on saving the world and get all self-centred and boy-humpy instead. Faith, the quality, is what Buffy was perhaps lacking after having to kill her own boyfriend to save the world at the end of Season 2. Or maybe Ms Summers just realised that she has hidden depths and that’s perfectly acceptable in the mind of a slayer. It is how she acts that matters and she always does the right thing. Faith probably has hidden shallows but I’d happily spend a few sheet-soaked evenings discovering what they are.

Oh, and the mayor demon dies. Duh!

Image IMDb.

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