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Retro Recap: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Episode 3.20, “The Prom”

You guys are going to have a prom. The kind of prom that everyone should have. I’m going to give you all a nice, fun, normal evening if I have to kill every single person on the face of the earth to do it.

Three. We are down to the final three episodes of season three and the gang’s time at Sunnydale High. And unexpectedly for Buffy, the finale of her relationship with Angel.

The Angel-Buffy pairing has been showing signs of fracturing all season long – there was the hurdle of her killing him, to get over him, the hell thing, the Faith thing, all the other things – but they kept coming back together. “Choices” and the Mayor’s speech really blasted open the fault lines. And Joyce swoops in to lay waste to the rest of it. I doubt Buffy told her mother the specifics of the lunchroom showdown, but Joyce shows up at the mansion and basically repeats the Mayor’s words to Angel. He’s holding her back. He’s always going to hold her back, just because of who he is. Pair that, the last couple of weeks, and one horrible wedding dream, and Angel is ready to face the truth.

In retrospect, Angel leaving Buffy was one of the most mature decisions shown on the show. There’s a certain mythology in our culture that *bam* love happens, and girl meets some guy at a ridiculously young age, and that’s her soul mate. She will stay with him forever and ever and ever. Twilight, of course, makes its cash off this very premise. It would have been the easy choice to leave Buffy-Angel together. (I’m aware some of this storyline was directed by his spinoff show.) The show seems to finally really look at what it means to have a 240-year-old man in love with a 17 -year-old girl. He’s done everything. She’s mature, she’s brave, but she’s still 17. And her life will forever be confined in at least one way – the Slayer, Sunnydale, and the Hellmouth. If she wants to grow, if she wants to have a chance at a fuller life, maybe he really does need to walk away from her. Buffy gets it, eventually, in Season 7 with her cookie dough speech, just like it takes many of us to see past heartbreak to what good has come of it.

With that in mind, was there anyone who thought the wedding scene was real? I recall assuming it was a dream even upon first watching.

 

Buffy deals with bad feelings in an entirely reasonable way: by violence against evil doers. The gang has figured out that someone is planning on attacking the prom with Hellhounds. The Slayer may have a broken heart and canceled dance plans, but she is going to make damn sure the rest of them have one normal high school experience. Because that’s what she does. She protects them.

After learning that Hellhounds feed on brains, Buffy heads over to the meatpacking plant. Since the plant runs a vibrant underground blood ring and it’s located in Sunnydale, I have no doubt that the Slayer just walked in, asked who had been ordering brains, and no one blinked an eye. In fact, I bet the meatpacking plant is a very profitable business and if they ever have an IPO, everyone should buy stock.

From there, it’s just a hop, skip and jump to meeting Tucker, who has been tormenting Hellhounds in his basement with teen prom movies and happens to be the brother of Andrew, one of the Trio. In case we get them confused, Andrew was the one who attacked the school play with flying monkeys. The whole monster aspect of this episode is pretty straightforward – Buffy finds the bad guy, Buffy tracks down his pets, Buffy kills his pets, viola! A framework for a story about rites of passage.

In the first season, all Buffy wanted to do was be normal. She resisted her calling and the burdens that came with it. In the second, she accepted them and did it on her terms. By this point, at the prom, we see that it was worth it. People noticed what she did. They knew she was special and that she saved them. Cordelia once said Buffy was invisible at the school that no one would care if she disappeared. Here’s where the school proves Cordy wrong.

 

I’ll just quote Jonathan’s speech here. It’s practically perfect in every way.

 

Jonathan: We have one more award to give out. Is Buffy Summers here tonight? Did she”¦ um”¦ This is actually a new category. First time ever. I guess there were a lot of write in ballots and the prom committee asked me to read this. “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 no secret that Sunnydale High isn’t really like other high schools. A lot of weird stuff happens here.”
Student: Zombies!
Student: Hyena people!
Student: Snyder!
Jonathan: “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 that at least part of that is because of you. So the senior class offers its thanks and gives you, uh”¦ this.” It’s from all of us. And it has written here, Buffy Summers – Class Protector.

 

Omg, you guys, it’s raining on my face. [Me, too. Every time. -PoM]

She’s never going to be normal. But for one night she can have a semblance of it. The feeling of belonging, of being important, of mattering to the people around her. And she gets her dance, too.

 

I think we can all agree that Faith is sitting at home during all of this, stewing over Buffy getting to go to prom while she can’t as she has been cruelly ostracized by Buffy and the Scooby Gang. Through no fault of her own!

Next week: Graduation Day, Part 1

Would you Buffy fans be interested in doing a group rewatch of Graduation Day Parts 1 and 2? It’s on Netflix and can be “party” viewed.

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.

15 replies on “Retro Recap: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Episode 3.20, “The Prom””

…………….retro recap……..Buffy?! As in, my all time favorite show??!!!

Wow, I wish I had found this site sooner!

Gotta say, “Prom” is one of my favorite episodes and it never fails to have me cry when Buffy gets her umbrella (and later in “Freshmen” my heart pangs when her umbrella gets broken thanks to the stupid vampire girl).

The show seems to finally really look at what it means to have a 240-year-old man in love with a 17 -year-old girl. He’s done everything. She’s mature, she’s brave, but she’s still 17. Yes, this. This is why Buffy is light years away from all the True Bloods (although Sookie is getting there), Vampire Diaries, and Twilight. When I was a teenager and watching BTVS during its initiatl run, I was all “Ohhh ANGEL!” but as I’ve grown and reviewed the episodes with my adult-eyes I realize “EWWW ANGEL!” I mean, Angel is hot and all, but pedophilia? Definitely not (plus I work with teens who DO date older men so I am sensitive to this subject).

Cant remember if I thought the wedding scene was real, but it was featured on the cover of the Buffy fan magazine before (I think) the show aired; I remember thinking “WHAT THE….?”

In fact, I bet the meatpacking plant is a very profitable business and if they ever have an IPO, everyone should buy stock. Haha, nice :)

Can’t wait to read the others!!!

Welcome! I’m glad you found your way to the recaps — I love hearing what other Buffy fans have to say.

I recall really liking Angel and finding their relationship romantic when the show was first on, but I definitely have had that same reaction you had up rewatchings. He’s really old for her. Like, inappropriately old. I don’t understand how they have things to talk about. I’m definitely a Spuffy gal, myself, but I’ll admit there’s times when Angel does really sweet, caring things for her — showing up at the prom was one of them. Leaving is another.

So, I didn’t watch Buffy when it first aired (weird religious environment). The first time I watched “The Prom”, I wasn’t really into it — I saw it more as a stand-alone fluff episode than a connector between the events leading up to this point and the Graduation finale. I guess my own lack of enthusiasm about prom had something to do with it (I wasn’t really THAT into it, and chose the “get dressed up, go to dinner with friends, then go home” option). I’ve actually skipped it during Buffythons.

I was wrong. “The Prom” is important because the show is not just about saving the world every other week. It’s about growing up. And prom is part of that, especially senior prom. Where graduation is a formal recognition of achievement and transition by parents and teachers, prom is that for the kids themselves. And, for the Scoobies, prom is one of the only *normal* things they get to do. And Buffy says that; she tells Giles that, even if the world was ending the morning after, she would make sure her friends had a happy prom. That’s what Buffy does, in between monster-squashing and apocalypse-averting.

And, while I don’t have Netflix, I DO have the entire televised BTVS series on DVD. I’ll join in on the live rewatch if there’s a P-mag thread :)

I’ve seen this episode at least a dozen times and this was the first time it struck me how slow and stand along the first 2/3 of it is. I think the emotional impact is what happens at the prom — those moments of normalcy, some quiet time, just being teenagers. Their lives are very unrelenting — this is a rare breather.

I own the entire series on DVD too! It’s pretty much the only television series I’ve ever felt moved to own. I’ll make an announcement about a group rewatch soon.

Exactly — they’re ALL trying to save the world on a daily basis, while still getting through high school (some try the latter harder than others; I mean, Willow taking over Jenny Calendar’s teaching job, tutoring, getting straight A’s, managing to do well enough to get into every college with a stamp AND she stayed calm in the face of Faith with a knife??). Growing up is hard enough, and everyone needs a breather sometimes. It took me a while to really “get” that, and get why this episode is important.

I re-watched Buffy a lot of times (in addition to seeing about 95% of them new and live from 1996-2003, that one hour on Tuesday night was ALWAYS my turn on the family TV for the earlier years I was still living at home). The prom award and the part where Angel shows up to dance with her before it’s too late, always make my eyes sweat profusely. I feel some eye sweat getting on just reading the speech.

The other, less obvious time I lose it is at the end of  “Lie to Me” where Giles gives Buffy the speech about how the good guys are always just and true, and the bad guys are always distinguished by their horns and black hats, and we always beat them and no one ever dies. Gets me every time. Perhaps the best condensed speech about growing up to ever make it to American TV.

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