Retro Recap: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Episode 3.19, “Choices”

I mean, come-come on. What kind of a life can you offer her? I don’t see a lot of Sunday picnics in the offing. I see skulking in the shadows, hiding from the sun. She’s a blossoming young girl and you want to keep her from the life she should have ’til it’s passed her by. And, by God, I think that’s a little selfish. Is that what you came back from Hell for? Is that your greater purpose?

If there’s one thing you can say about Buffy – though I and plenty of other blowhards have proven there’s far more than one thing to say about BVTS – it’s that the episode titles are fairly straightforward. “The Prom” is about the prom. “Graduation Day” is about graduation day. This week’s episode “Choices” is about choices. No ambiguity here!

No ambiguity leads to no pithy introductions, so let’s just jump into the action, shall we?

Buffy and Angel seem to be back in total couple mode, out patrolling together and talking about the rut of vampire-slaying their relationship seems to have fallen into. As they fight easily together, Buffy cracks that she expects them to still be doing this when she’s 50 and he’s the same age he is now. Note the comment, as it becomes important later.

And it is highly likely that’s what Buffy will be doing at 50 (or at least until 26, which most Slayers don’t live past), since she won’t be heading off to college any time soon. Joyce is blissfully unaware that Buffy’s future has been put in jeopardy by Faith’s defection. Joyce is a fine woman with many wonderful qualities, one of which is the ability to completely disregard the practical situation on the ground. She thinks Buffy is going to head off to Northwestern in the fall. Buffy, for her part, looks like she’s developing an ulcer.

We have this week in random magical objects, the Box of Gavrok, which contains 50,000 (give or take) lethal, face-eating spiders. The box and its gross spiders are essential to the Mayor’s ascension plan. He needs to eat them. Why not? Sure. Because of their importance, Faith has been placed in charge of securing its delivery to the Mayor, which she does as she does everything now, by randomly killing people that aren’t planning to do her any harm.

Every week just proves Faith more and more unstable. Early in “Choices,” her substitute daddy gives her a wicked-looking knife, which she appreciates by smelling its killing edge. She shoots the box’s messenger in the back and then cuts off his hand without batting an eye. After Faith recaptures Willow, she gleefully mentions torturing and maiming her former friend. She’s thrown herself completely to the dark side at this point and the Mayor is her enabler.

The gang, of course, finds out about the existence of the box and, frustrated by the nothing they know about the Ascension and the bupkis they’re doing to stop it, Buffy suggests taking the fight to City Hall by stealing the box.  Willow is on mojo duty, Angel and Buffy are the infiltration force, Giles and Wesley are the distraction, and Oz and Xander are prepping the box-destroying spell, with a few helpful instructions from Willow. It’s a full team effort.  Everything goes smoothly, except for the part where Buffy sets off an alarm when she picks the box up and she and Angel need to fight their way out of the building, but they mostly get away with their plan.

Mostly, except for the niggling issue of Willow being taken hostage.

The title, on surface glance, refers to this situation – do they trade the Box of Gavrok back to the Mayor for Willow, or do they destroy it while they have the chance? The only person seriously advocating for the latter is Wesley, who makes one very excellent point – they are putting hundreds, if not thousands, of lives in jeopardy by delivering the box back into the Mayor’s hands.  Oz neatly ends the discussion by destroying the spell that would have destroyed the box. A clandestine meeting in the cafeteria is set up.

I love the showdown in the cafeteria – it’s beautifully shot and composed. You can practically hear the gunfight music playing in the background. The gang is there to get Willow, but the Mayor takes the opportunity to inflict some psychological damage. Remember Buffy’s crack about turning 50? The Mayor, who himself outlived his true love, digs at the uncertainly both Buffy and Angel have been feeling about their relationship and points out the ugly truths neither of them have been willing to look at.

“You’re immortal. She’s not. It’s not easy. I married my Edna Mae in aught three, and I was with her right until the end. Not a pretty picture. Wrinkled and senile and cursing me for my youth, it wasn’t our happiest time. And let’s forget the fact that any moment of true happiness will turn you evil.”

The Mayor means to be cruel, but that doesn’t mean what he says isn’t true. Of course it is. That’s why it hurts so much. There are a couple of really good speeches in “Choices.” Willow gets two of them (“You were a Slayer and-and now you’re nothing. You’re just a big selfish, worthless waste.”) and the Mayor gets this one. Hands down, its one of my favorite scenes in the whole series.

While the groups are trying to take their winnings and leave, Snyder busts in with a couple of cops looking to stop the “˜drug dealing’ at the school. One of them opens the box, lets out a few of those nasty spiders, and the two sides must work in tandem until the threat is gone. Except for the Mayor – remember, he’s invulnerable. Buffy gets one and Faith kills the other by pinning it to the wall with her new knife. When she has to leave, she hesitates, staring at the knife, the gift from her substitute father. She doesn’t want to leave it. A couple of weeks ago, when Buffy and Faith fought on the docks, Faith had a similar expression on her face, hesitating because she wasn’t quite ready to leave Buffy’s side of the fight. If nothing else shows how far she’s fallen – and she’s fallen so far – its what holds her back in the cafeteria.

 

Musings:

In watching “Choices” for the umpteenth time, I finally asked myself – did Buffy make the right call? We know with years of retrospect that she did because Willow is integral to the fight against the First, but within Buffy’s moral compass, is putting the lives of the entire town before Willow’s the hero’s call? If the gang had discovered the truth about the Ascension before this episode, would it have been different? The show never comes back to this question, but book-ended here, against Buffy’s attitude about the crises in seasons two and seven, her immediate decision to trade the box for Willow seems very stark indeed. I’m interested in hearing if anyone else has given this choice any thought.

It’s important to note what Willow is wearing in this episode. As she comes into her own, Willow’s style matures from her boxy fuzzy sweaters and colored tights into more sophisticated and somewhat romantic clothing. When she strides into the library to help plan the assault on City Hall, she’s clad in a form-fitting crushed velvet dress that happens to be decorated with arcane symbols. Her dress is different in this episode because Willow is different in this episode. Her magic is helpful, she rescues herself (initially), stands up to Faith even in the face of pummeling, dusts her first vamp, and steals information from the Books of Ascension. Willow, in short, is a total badass this week. And she looks it.

 

Next week: The Prom!

Published by

[E] Slay Belle

Slay Belle is an editor and the new writer mentor here at Persephone Magazine, where she writes about pop culture, Buffy, and her extreme love of Lifetime movies. She is also the editor of powderroom.jezebel.com. You can follow her on Twitter, @SlayBelle or email her at slay@persephonemagazine.com. She is awfully fond of unicorns and zombies, and will usually respond to any conversational volley that includes those topics.

3 thoughts on “Retro Recap: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Episode 3.19, “Choices””

  1. And this is where Faith passes the point of no return (at least, at this stage). Unless I forgot something, Willow was the first sort-of-defenseless person that Faith knowingly harmed. She’s always reveled in her slayer-ness and enjoyed  beating up the bad guys, but she didn’t want to hurt *people*. Faith wasn’t a hero, by any means, but she wasn’t cruel — until Willow was a hostage. Buffy is more of Faith’s “equal”, in terms of power and ability; Willow is (or was, or is perceived to be) more innocent and more weak. She can’t physically fight back as effectively as others in the group, and Faith knows that — but she also underestimates Willow by assuming that Willow will hide and cry like a scared kitten instead of trying to get the hell out. And that lower physical strength means Willow is completely defenseless. She’s not. Willow’s smart, and knows how to figure out what’s important (like the pages from the Books of Ascension). Willow’s just as badass as Buffy and Faith already, even if she isn’t as strong a physical fighter.

    I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned it here, but I have told my Fella (as a warning-in-advance for when we get to it). Oz completely ruined high school boys for me. Completely. His argument-ending urn-smash has always been one of those moments. He’s not just keeping Willow alive. I’ve always interpreted that moment as siding with Buffy’s argument that there is always another way and always a back-up plan. And, with Buffy and the Scoobies, there usually is a back-up plan (even if nobody has planned it yet). Even if that back-up plan is driving a sword through her boyfriend, or breaking all of the Slayer Rules, or killing herself so someone else can live. Buffy finds a way to save her friends AND the world. Oz knows it (and probably heard the “so when the Master rose and I died for a minute” story), and isn’t so worried about the end of the world. Buffy’s got that. It’s Willow that Oz is worried about.

  2. Re: Buffy choosing Willow, I think it’s clear that when Buffy needs to, she will make the hard choice. When there’s no other option, no backup plan… she’ll send her lover to hell, she’ll sacrifice herself… she’ll make that choice. When there’s time, though… when there are options… when the ascention isn’t happening tomorrow and those thousands of lives aren’t going to end now… she will choose her friends. And find another way later.

  3. But Buffy can’t kill Willow, not ever. She’s too human for it, she has heart.

    If Buffy would have killed Willow, Sunnydale would have been safe until the next baddie. The Scooby gang would fall apart out of blame. Buffy would turn into a shell-version of herself, not allowing herself to have any relationship. She would be a robot (yes I know, there already is a Buffy-bot). Willow is her anchor, in my opinion even more than Giles. They’re the two halves of an almost mythical idea of the woman (like virgin, mother, crone but then ..fighter and creator?).

    It would have been more convenient, of course.  But that certainly doesn’t work in Sunnydale.

Leave a Reply