Covering from “Band Candy” to “Lovers Walk,” in which stability is an illusion.
What’s coming back to me now, is that season 3 is where Buffy and the Scoobs are most profoundly set against institutions and authority. The show has always been critical of authority figures, mostly in the form of a succession of administrators, teachers, and coaches who are indifferent, unhelpful, or nefarious, but in making the chief antagonist of the season Sunnydale’s Mayor, it puts our heroes up against the power structure and history of the town itself—a much more worthy target than a bunch of harried educators. As we learn more and more about Richard Wilkins III, we’d learn just how deeply rooted and rotten the power structure is, but for now, in his second appearance, the Mayor uses an upending of the social order to hide the means by which his power is maintained.
That’s not what everyone remembers about “Band Candy,” though. I bet there are only a few who can name the demon to whom the Mayor intends to offer up the babies of Sunnydale. But everyone remembers how Ethan Rayne hatched another chaos-sewing plan that would have the town’s populace adopting new personas again, this time with cursed chocolate that reverts all the adults to teenagers. And why wouldn’t everyone remember that? It’s hilarious. The show would return to some variation of the characters getting forced into some new persona because it was so often so fun, but there was also something of a benefit to making Giles’ alluded-to misspent youth something concrete, or showing from whence Buffy got her dippier tendencies.
As frustrated as Buffy is by Giles and Joyce limiting her, the truism gleaned is that the engine of society runs on adults limiting themselves and doing things they don’t particularly want to do. When they stop, things are immediately great, but quickly get disconcerting, uncomfortable, inconvenient, and finally scary when things really start breaking down (“a sobering mirror,” as Oz puts it). I mean, police officers, terrifyingly immature, waving their guns in over-inflated adolescent displays of power? Can you imagine how frightening that would be? I mean, if we weren’t dealing with such fanciful fiction.
To the adults, there is another obvious truism: Why would you want to be these pieces of shit again?
Quick note on Ethan: while he’s a roach as always, he gets some fun characterization here as a guy who is very uncomfortable with his demonic employers, flinching when Mr. Trick kills a guy for the helluvit, and divulging the entire scheme after the most minimal of beatings. In the end, with a bit of time and the fiery death of the finest CG work a late 90’s TV show on the WB could provide, tenuous order is restored.
But that skepticism with authority factors into “Revelations” as well, though we only learn that at the end, when Giles says the Watchers Council swears they sent a memo re: the evil of Mrs. Gwendolyn Post. This revelation comes a bit late, though, as it comes after Mrs. Post cloaked herself in false authority to infiltrate the Scoobs, exploit some mistrust, and nearly kill everyone with a lightning glove. The real fissure, however, is caused by Buffy, as this is the episode wherein everyone learns she’s been hiding Angel’s return. While Xander is justified, though over the line a few times, and Willow is ineptly peace-making (and probably too forgiving), the harshest reproach comes, as it must, from Giles, who reminds Buffy (and anyone really excited to have Angel back) of the torture he endured at Angel’s hands. While, again, I’m not big on transitive blame, the case remains: if Buffy doesn’t keep Angel’s return from everyone, there isn’t a secret meeting for Faith to feel excluded from, and Post’s schemes get a little harder.
More than Giles’ stinging rebuke, or the varying levels of betrayal Buffy’s friends feel, Faith is the saddest part of “Revelations.” It’s so obvious she’s desperate to fit in, and desperate for guidance and coaching—though she’s presented as the edgy rebel with a rough upbringing, she’s almost exactly opposite of oppositional-defiant, eager to learn, eager to do, and eager to receive praise. She wants to contribute, and she wants to be guided in that, so it feels particularly cruel for Post to exploit those impulses leaving Faith feeling even more isolated and mistrustful than before. While Buffy is able to mend things with the core gang, the schism with Faith runs deeper. But surely someone will notice before that becomes a big problem.
In “Lovers Walk,” the Mayor rallies troops in defense of the thing corrupt authority loves the most—the status quo. And he has to do it because the show’s prime status quo upender comes crashing into town.
Yes, Spike is back, but he ends up not causing so much trouble for the Mayor, the status quo he upends is the delicate balance struck by Willow and Xander and Oz and Cordelia, as the long-simmering attraction between the former two is inadvertently dragged into the light. Oh, and he forces Buffy and Angel to confront the fact their love is doomed in his inimitable profane eloquence.
There isn’t a whole lot to say about “Lovers Walk” past that in relation to its placement in season 3 (it does have more significance on events much further down the road), but it’s my favorite of these, and one of my favorites of the season (though “Band Candy” runs close), and, yeah, that’s because of Spike. He’s just such a delight! When he’s not terrifyingly menacing Willow, that is. He gets drunk and burns himself! He gets Willow to tenth-heartedly console him! He commiserates with Joyce and wonders if she has marshmallows for his hot chocolate! He’s gleefully violent and forces Buffy and Angel to fight alongside him (the “Baby like his supper? Baby like his supper? Why doesn’t baby take a nap?” bit may be one of my favorite moments for the character)! He snaps out of his depression due to that gleeful violence, instantly dismisses his scheme, and departs town again with a skip in his step, singing along to Sid Vicious! But most of all, he is perceptive enough to highlight exactly how Buffy and Angel are fooling themselves. Things have changed, and some stability, some status quos, cannot be restored.