Good things about this episode: it finally introduces the Mayor, probably my favorite villain in the verse (if we don’t count Spike or Faith as villains). One of the things that the main plot centers on is really entertaining - Mr. Trick organizing “SlayerFest ‘98”, a contest to kill Buffy and Faith, which results in Buffy and Cordy fighting a bunch of colorful human and demon characters. And for some really good news: Scott Hope dumps Buffy and that’s the last we see of him (yay!
Bad things: or rather, just one but a huge one. It’s the beginning of what is possibly my least favorite storyline in the entire show, and the one I’d most like to remove from canon, which is not just because I’ve always hated it, but because I’ve never found it convincing. And I had to endure it for 3 more episodes after this one.
Neutral things: the other thing that the plot is about is the competition for the Homecoming Queen, one of those American high school traditions that I just don’t get. They really have official popularity contests in schools? Creepy. And what is a Homecoming Queen, anyway? On the other hand, the episode derives some fun from the silliness of it all. It’s also an opportunity to have Buffy and Cordy square off and deal with their issues with each other, but for this purpose, Cordy’s characterization and their dynamic have been reverted to what they were like at the end of season 1.
All in all, an average episode by BtVS standards.
This is where the Willow/Xander fling starts, with the “clothes fluke” - since they supposedly found themselves irresistibly attracted to each ohter because he wore a suit and she wore a long black dress. Which makes very little sense. (It’s certainly a contrast to Oz, who found Willow attractive the first time he saw her even though she was in an Eskimo suit.) What’s worse, the scene is set to one of those incredibly cheesy songs you hear on teen shows like Dawson’s Creek
Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I don’t enjoy storylines about people doing wrong things, quite the opposite, I love it when we see that main characters have flaws. And why am I so upset with this when people have done far worse things over the course of the show? I admit that a lot of my annoyance was because I really liked the Willow/Oz relationship, and to a lesser extent Xander/Cordy, but the main reason is that I never found this plot believable. I could see them having one kiss, due to the fact she used to have a crush on him for a long time and that he seems to have started to see her differently when she found a boyfriend. But the idea of the two of them being so attracted to each other that they're carrying on behind Oz's and Cordy's backs is something I'm really not buying. I believed it when Xander and Cordy couldn't keep their hands off each other, but I just find the idea of Xander and Willow lusting after each other a bit funny. Their relationship was always been sexless, even when they were about to kiss in When She Was Bad
they seemed like two 8-year olds, and I'm not seeing any more sexual chemistry/attraction between them now. Their kisses aren't even portrayed as sexy, they are made to look cute – even though they're cheating. I certainly don't see such a big attraction that would make Willow betray Oz and risk hurting him.
would've been a great resolution to the storyline of Willow having a crush on Xander. Why did W/X in season 3 happen? I can come up with Doylist reasons: Joss wanted to give the Willow/Xander shippers what they wanted in the worst possible way, and had to contrive a way to ruin the Xander/Cordy ship, because Cordy was supposed to go to the Angel spinoff starting the next year. On the Watsonian level, it's much more difficult. I can find some reasons for Xander's sudden sexual interest in Willow. He was used to being the most important guy in Willow's life, he showed jealousy of Oz a few times in season 2; then the possibility of losing Willow when she was injured and in a coma made him realize how much she meant to him and he told her ILY, though I think he wasn't sure if it was romantic or friendly. However, she showed who was the most important man in her life now when she asked for Oz, not Xander. It boils down to wanting what he can't have, and Willow now has a boyfriend so he's starting to see her as a sexual being rather than a platonic childhood friend. Plus, his feelings for Cordy don't seem as strong as hers for him. I have a harder time believing that Willow would do it. Yes, she had a crush on Xander for a long time, but she seemed so in love with Oz since Phases
up till this episode. Maybe after thinking for so long that nobody liked her, she's just enjoying sudden attention from two guys - two guys she really likes - and enjoying the feeling of doing something forbidden (even though a few episodes ago she didn't even dare have lunch outside of school premises). The best explanation (fanwank?) I've read so far is that they were both afraid of growing up and having real relationships, so they were subconsciously undermining them by turning to their childhood friend. Another one, based on later revelations/retcons about Willow's sexuality, is that she felt that even though she finally had a boyfriend and was in love with him, she didn't exactly feel the kind of passion she thought girls feel in romantic relationships with boys, and that she was trying to find that through an illicit 'affair'. But the very fact I have to work hard to make sense of it shows what's wrong with this story.
Angel is not wild anymore – though he's not yet his normal self either, he's not looking at Buffy and not speaking either, except for a single word; this time it's repeating Giles's name when Buffy mentioned him, with an expression of guilt that shows he remembers what he did in season 2 (which from his perspective happened hundreds years ago?). He only has a big emotional reaction when Buffy tells him she's dating someone new (she seemed to think he would be glad to know that she was doing well). Buffy uncharacteristically recoils from him as if she's scared – maybe she's still not sure if he's over his wild beast phase. But he just touches her leather jacket – the one he originally gave her in Teacher's Pet
. I like this scene with Angel's non-verbal reactions, it's quite emotional and Angel's more interesting here than he will be in the next episodes when he starts acting completely normally. Buffy describes Scott as someone she can trust (she talks about him in a similar way she'll talk about Riley in season 4) and says that he makes her happy – which must mean that she's started to confuse the absence of angst with real happiness. Then we get the segue into the next scene – Scott dumping Buffy, a perfect moment of irony. His reason for breaking up is that Buffy used to be full of life, like a force of nature, before they started going out, and that she's now 'distracted'. I'm not sure if we're supposed to think that it's Angel's return that's caused this, but I've always thought that the relationship with Scott was itself a big part of the reason, because trying to date someone you're not enthusiastic about tends to be uncomfortable, and because she couldn't tell him anything about her problems and secrets. If we take this is Scott dumping Buffy because she isn't as fun as he thought she would be, then he looks like a real jerk, but if we take it as Scott having realized that Buffy really isn't in the relationship and that it's just killing her spirit, he seems perfectly reasonable. (Season 7 had a fun but unnecessary retcon about Scott, making him a jerk who told people Buffy was gay after the breakup, until he came out himself.)
I love this exchange:
Faith: Oh, man! Guys should break up with you more often.
Buffy: Gee, thank you.
Faith: No, I mean it. You really got some quality rage going. Really gives you an edge.
Faith is being a good friend to Buffy in her own way – she immediately calls Scott names, suggests to Buffy that they go and have fun, picking up some studs and discarding them (in a typical Faith way, as we'll later see), and you gotta love the way she goes to get revenge in Buffy's name on the „sleezebag“ when she sees him with some other girl at the homecoming, pretending that she's his ex who gave him an STD.
Being dumped by the rebound guy, learning that her favorite teacher doesn't remember her, and missing the photoshoot for the Yearbook all get Buffy to the point where she decides to compete with Cordy for the title of the Homecoming Queen. It's her way of trying to prove herself that she has a life and impact on people beyond killing monsters. And a part of that is sheer defiance because of Cordy's mean behavior. This episode is mostly about Buffy working out her issues with Cordy – who's her dark mirror/embodiment of her past, the shallow but popular girl from Hemery High before she found out she was a Slayer – before the rest of the seasons focuses on Buffy's issues with Faith, who's another the embodiment of the dark side of the Slayer. But to set that up, the writers made Cordy act a lot more like her season 1 self, and the Buffy/Cordy dynamic here comes straight out of Out of Mind, Out of
Sight and Reptile Boy
. Cordy hasn't been this mean since mid-way through season 2, and she really deals a low blow when she mocks Buffy for being from a single-parent home. Which doesn't bring out the best in Buffy, either – she replies to Cordy's „crazy freak“ insult by calling her „vapid whore“.
After this unpleasant moment, we get comedic displays of the stupidity of the homecoming queen vote, with Buffy and Cordy conducting their 'campaigns', i.e. sucking up to people and bribing them with presents. The similarities to political campaigns are played up for fun – Buffy is really treating it as seriously as if she's going to win an important public office, down to assigning tasks to her 'team' – until they refuse to work on the 'campaign' – and writing a list of her rivals' strengths and weaknesses on a board.
I used the pause button because I was curious what all the pros and cons on Buffy's board were, it's quite amusing. Let's see:
popular with boys
makes friends easily
has money to buy votes
bad in sports
no sense of humor
too much makeup
good in sports
Brie? What’s that about?
I love how „always studying“ is both bad and good. And „no boyfriend“ seriously ruins your status – it’s not surprising that Buffy and Willow can’t imagine that Buffy might try to move on with her life by being single for a while instead of dating the first dude who shows an interest in her. But a ’loser/geek’ boyfriend can also hurt your chances.
Oddly enough, Buffy didn’t list the reason why I think Cordy never had a chance of winning any popularity contest – she’s just too mean to people, except for those select few who follow her around or those she wants to impress. A week of sucking up to everyone and giving them money and presents can’t erase years of verbal bullying, and the ballot is secret, so she can’t check if those who took her money really voted for her. Buffy didn’t have a chance either, since she doesn’t socialize much outside of her circle of friends, many people probably still think she’s weird and a little scary... though we see later in The Prom
that more and more people were realizing that she fights monsters and protects people; but that doesn’t necessarily translate to a title such as the homecoming queen. Maybe even those people were wondering why Buffy would even need such a title, as Cordy does in this episode.
When it comes to the recurring characters introduced
in this episode, the most important thing is that we finally get to see Mayor Richard Wilkins III. He’s not yet as funny as he’ll be in the rest of the season, but he’s immediately interesting with his cheery attitude, obsession with cleanliness, and affable persona that is in sharp contrast with his activities, and if we needed any confirmation just how evil he is, we get it at the end of the episode when he hires Mr. Trick because of the „initiative“ he showed trying to get the two Slayers killed, and explains that he needs someone to take care of the the Slayers. We also get to meet Mayor’s ill-fated deputy Allen Finch, a timid man who is clearly afraid of his boss – and who will end up accidentally killed by Faith in Bad Girls
Mr. Trick continues to be a fun villain, and has some of the best lines and moments of the episode, including another reference to the fact that he’s one of the rare black people on the show: „If this is the part where you tell me I don’t fit here in your little neighborhood, you can just skip it, cause, you see, that got old long before I became a vampire, you know what I’m sayin’?“ Besides Trick, there’s another vampire character returning after a long time (no, not that
one – not yet): Lyle Gorch, the comic Texan outlaw, this time with a wife called Candy, a Texan stereotype herself. They are among the group of colorful characters participating in Trick’s SlayerFest ’98 – something that they’re apparently paying large sums of money for (Trick is a good businessman!). It’s interesting that there are both demons and humans among the participants: a vampire couple (the Gorches); a demon played by an actor with the silliest line delivery ever and something on his head that looks a bit like a Mohawk, who introduces himself as Kulak of the Miquot clan*; a human werewolf hunter; and a group of human terrorists - German twins who kinda look like Dolph Lundgren, and their old British boss with his technological know-how.
After Buffy and Cordy end up riding to the homecoming in the same limo, because the other Scoobies arranged it to make them solve their issues, participants mistake Cordy for Faith (who was originally going to be Buffy’s... ’date’), since they’ve never seen Faith. Buffy and Cordy have to run for their lives and fight (well, Buffy
fights) and in the meantime get to work out their issues with each other. While Buffy sees the title of homecoming queen as a way to have some sort of life outside slaying monsters, Cordy can’t understand why Buffy would even care about these things. She wouldn’t want to admit it, but she probably secretly envies Buffy, who gets to do something really important; and in Cordy’s mind, things like school popularity contests are Cordy’s territory, something that Buffy shouldn’t be trying to move into. It’s all a lot like the Buffy/Cordy scene in Out of Mind, Out of Sight
, where the two of them come to understand each other better. Cordy also lets it slip that she loves Xander – in her words, she’s not sure if it’s some „temporary insanity“ that’s made her think she loved him. (Oh the painful irony of her admitting that in the same episode when Xander is starting to cheat on her.) In the end, the hunter gets trapped in his own trap, the demon gets blown up, Candy accidentally stakes herself since she’s too dumb to live, and Lyle runs away, after Cordy gets her moment of awesome, scaring him off through sheer attitude and making him believe she’s a Slayer much scarier than Buffy. And Buffy uses her smarts again to make the two Lundgren guys shoot each other by mistake. What a useless bunch that was, but at least Trick got some money out of it.
The ending is good because it subverts the usual corny endings to such stories – Buffy and Cordy still want to beat other other for the ’crown’, after everything they’ve been through; when it’s announced that there’s a tie, we expect it to be a tie between Buffy and Cordy with a lesson about how they’re both awesome etc., but instead it’s the two other girls.
A few other things to mention: Jonathan makes another appearance (during the campaign, he’s enjoying in the cookies that he bought with the money Cordy gave him) and so does Oz’s band Dingoes Ate My Baby (actually Four Star Mary) and its singer Devon. Xander mentions another relative – cousin Rigby, the only well-off relative of his, who seems like a real snob – apparently he wants nothing to do with his poor relatives.
This is the first time we learn that demons have clans, something we’ll see more of in AtS. Before this episode, every demon seemed to be unique and a representation of some real life problem; now we see that they’re more akin to alien races.
Mr. Trick: We all have the desire to win, whether we're human... vampire... and whatever the hell you are, my brother. You got them spiny looking head things. I ain't never seen that before.
Mr. Trick: Ladies, gentlemen, spiny-headed looking creatures, welcome to SlayerFest '98.
Oz: As Willow goes, so goes my nation.
Cordy: Those animals, hunting us down like poor defenseless... well, animals.
Buffy is again wearing her Leather Jacket of Slaying, which plays quite a role in the Buffy/Angel scene in this episode. But in the next scene with Scott, she has an awful pink blouse with flounces, pink shoes and a pink handbag – the most stereotypically girly outfit she’s ever had. For the rest of the episode, she looks like she’s raided her mom’s wardrobe, except during the Slayerfest, when she wears a long red dress, while Cordy wears a green one (red for power and passion; green for envy?). Willow actually looks better in her lovely angora sweaters than in her black dress which is too long. Trick is impeccably dressed again, this time in dark red suit and orange tie and with his earrings, he certainly has a style of his own.
Pop culture references:
Buffy says her favorite subject last year was “Contemporary Heroes from Amelia Earhart to Maya Angelou”. Cordy says that Xander grows on you like a Chia Pet
Angel is not shirtless this time, but his shirt is carelessly unbuttoned so we see his chest.
Xander fantasizes about Buffy and Faith “getting sweaty” together. Trick uses the words “in the nubile flesh” to refer to Buffy. I guess he’s not just into eating young male service industry workers, after all.
A hint about the Mayor’s villainous plans: he says that it’s a really important year for him, and when Trick asks if he means the election, says it’s “
something like that”. Knowing what Allen Finch’s fate will be, it’s pretty ironic in hindsight that the Mayor tells him: “You have all my faith.”