As Buffy winds down its time in high school it occurs to me that ME is making more extensive use of the setting than they have since season one. “Earshot” brought the world of Sunnydale High back to the forefront and “Choices,” “The Prom,” and “Graduation Day” keeps it there. The decision makes sense, given that this is their last chance to tell these sorts of stories, but it is slightly out of step with what the series had become by this point. Still, it’s plenty fun to watch and “Choices” does fine job exploring the kind of “life changing” decisions that teenagers are faced with as they leave high school. Just like the last few episodes a delightful degree of nuance is brought to the situation as Buffy takes a proactive approach to things that are beyond her control.
Solid SAT scores have our Slayer seriously contemplating her future, not in the whiny, “I just wanna be normal” way we’ve seen before but in a serious, pragmatic, “how can I balance slaying and living?” way. There’s no suggestion that Buffy ignore her “sacred duty” here, just an honest exploration of how she can make that work with some reasonable life-goals; obvious first steps include scheduling slaying into breaks and long weekends, getting the demon population down to Watcher-manageable levels, oh, and averting the Mayor’s Apocalypse. Difficult as these tasks may seem, the point is that getting your shit together today can have a serious long term impact on your life.
The top priority has the Scoobies bringing the fight to the baddies in a way they generally don’t, breaking into City Hall in a bid to steal the key ingredient for Wilkins’ Ascension. It’s pretty entertaining cloak and dagger stuff that’s coupled with some of the best fight scenes the series has ever given us. Surprisingly, it works; the gang gets their hands on the magic box and for once has a chance to avert the apocalypse without the requisite near-impossible showdown with the Big Bad. The only catch is this would mean leaving Willow, who was captured in all the commotion, to die.
Of course, there’s no doubt that the Scoobies will cut a deal to save Willow (that’s just the sort of show Buffy is), but there’s still some nice drama to be had from the decision; Wes actually doesn’t sound like a complete ass when he argues in favour of saving the world. It also drills home the fact that they actually do have a choice; a crappy one, certainly, but a choice nonetheless. While it can often seem life is screwing with our best laid plans, the fact of the matter is that we still have the ability to affect outcomes and what happens has as much to do with who we are as it does with what’s put in our path.
As I said, there’s no doubt that Willow will be saved and that defeating the Mayor will need to wait for the finale, but the act makes being the Slayer as much about Buffy’s own choices as it is about destiny. Willow drills home the fact that this is a life worth choosing in her own decision to stay in Sunnydale. She doesn’t have cosmic responsibility weighing on her shoulders, she’s simply able to recognize what’s important.
I could’ve written a lot more about Willow in this review. The character essentially becomes the brave, resourceful, confident woman she’d be in the rest of the series.
Oz smashing the world-saving formula was a pretty excellent moment for the character.
Buffy treats the “our friend’s life vs. the world” question with all the seriousness it can muster, but it does demonstrate the limitations of the show. That’s not really a bad thing, it’s just that the series was always far more comfortable dealing with black and white morality. Shades of grey would be much better integrated on Angel.
I loved the Mayor’s commentary on the nighttime hostage exchange almost as much as I loved Snyder busting in, looking for drugs.