Season 3, Episode 21 - “Graduation Day, Pt. 1”
Original airdate: May 18, 1999
Project 310 re-watch date: Feb. 14, 2009
So the lead-up to Graduation Day and the Ascension turns bad for Buffy and the gang when Faith shoots a poisoned arrow into Angel, leaving him bedridden and needing the blood of a slayer to get better.
I really loved how Joss Whedon made all the pieces fit together plot-wise, between the Mayor, Faith, Buffy and the gang. When I first watched this episode, I didn’t see the plot-twist coming with Angel being poisoned. In fact, back in 1999, if you didn’t know they were spinning him off into his own show, you might have even thought they were killing him.
There are lots of great moments in this episode, including Willow and Oz finally having sex for the first time (though I thought they’d done it a few episodes ago). Anya and Xander have their first near-relationship moment too, which is semi-sweet, plus it gives us a sense of the Anya we’re going to get to know in the next few seasons (a very different Anya from “The Wish” and “Doppelgangland”).
Also, because of the Watchers’ Council’s refusal to help Angel, Buffy quits the Council. Again, Wesley is actually the one keeping the level head about everything, choosing the greater good above individual needs, but no one else sees it his way. Buffy doesn’t care if Angel’s poisoning is a distraction. She wants to cure Angel, and it sure helps that Buffy is totally willing to take Faith down in the process.
That leads to my favorite thing about this episode is the ending fight between Buffy and Faith. This had been building for so long, and the throwdown lives up to all expectations. It’s probably the best one-on-one fight of the first three seasons, exceeding the Buffy-Angel sword fight at the end of “Becoming”. It’s also got incredible build-up dialogue between Buffy and Faith leading into the fight.
Buffy even kills Faith (or, as we find out later, puts her into a coma) using her own knife -- the one the Mayor got for her in “Choices”. That knife, the Hibben Jackel, is a real product, and one of the coolest weapons ever on the show. I bought one a few years back, and it’s just really cool looking.
The only thing that detracts from the fight is that both Eliza Dushku and Sarah Michelle Gellar have stuntwomen that look nothing like them, and during the fight there are a couple glimpses of their faces. It’s bad enough that the body types aren’t great matches, but when you can see the faces, even quickly, it really ruins the illusion. Otherwise, though, a totally great episode.
Xander: “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
(Sure, he’s quoting “Jaws”, but that’s what makes it great.)