The Good: Excellent villain, Good acting, Interesting character development, Decent plots
The Bad: Occasional soap opera feeling
The Basics: In the third season, Buffy returns to Sunnydale to find the Mayor planning carnage, her friends estranged and a new Slayer on the prowl.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer is something television executives should wish for. As a mid-season replacement show, Buffy had the odds stacked against it, but it found a very loyal audience and became a cult t.v. show that people write papers on and go to conventions for. Television executives love things they can merchandise. The third season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer was the last guaranteed season the show had; as the final season of Buffy's high school experience, it was the last season where the formula that had sold an audience on the show could be executed. And the makers of Buffy The Vampire Slayer used that to their advantage.
The third season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer finds the gang getting into Senior year after Buffy returns to Sunnydale. As they struggle to get through classes, a new Slayer arrives in town searching for a new force of evil. As the gang learns that the Mayor of Sunnydale is planning a genocidal Ascension, they come to discover their new Slayer, Faith, may be easily as much of a threat to them.
The worst aspect of the third season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer is that too often is feels like a soap opera with the relationships. The characters are great, but how they interact sometimes comes across as sappy, melodramatic and a hyperbole of emotions. This is especially true in the relationships of Xander, Willow, Oz and Cordelia. But that's the only real drawback of the season and - for the most part - that melodrama is over with by the end of the tenth episode.
With that, then, there is much to recommend the third season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The first is that it is very easy for people who have not been fans of the show to get into this series with this season. Because the season begins with Buffy estranged from those she knows, it makes it easy for new viewers to come into Sunnydale with her when she returns. Everything about Slayers and the whole vampire among us world of Buffy is re-explained with the introduction of Faith.
As always, the characters and their journeys are the real meat of the show and the series. Here is how the third season finds them:
The Mayor - Alluded to at the end of the second season, here he is revealed as a quirky germophobe with the desire to become fully demon through the Ascension,
Anya - A vengeance demon whose tenure at granting the wishes of tormented women comes to an abrupt end via an alternate universe version of Giles. She finds herself trapped in the persona of a 12th grade girl,
Faith - Unstable and unsure of herself or her new powers, she enters Sunnydale as a moral ambiguity and the season creates her as a foil of Buffy as she makes one bad choice after another,
Oz - His love for Willow is tested as he becomes more and more comfortable with his werewolf alter-ego,
Cordelia - Her love for Xander leads her to feelings of betrayal and ultimately needing to distance herself from Sunnydale,
Xander - His love for Cordelia comes into conflict with an older passion and leads him to feelings of abandonment. When he finds his place with his friends, he finds that the situation in Sunnydale is far more dangerous than he ever anticipated,
Angel - Is resurrected by forces he does not understand after spending a long time in Hell; his conflicted love for Buffy causes him to choose another path,
Willow - Her burgeoning skills as a witch continue to grow, impressing everyone and causing her to become a greater asset than ever before. Her love for Oz goes through some rocky patches, but she remains fairly steadfast,
Giles - Is tested along with Buffy by the Watcher Council, resulting in his being fired and yet, harboring a deep, parental, love for his charge. His choices leave him the most alone often,
and Buffy - Her return to Sunnydale is complicated by her new honesty with her mother, her love of Angel, the pressures of school life, and the threats posed by the Mayor and Faith. Here, she grows finally into a mostly-confident young woman in control of her destiny.
All of the characters are dynamic in Buffy The Vampire Slayer and, as a result, all change in some significant way throughout the season.
So, if you're not a fan of this series (mostly by virtue of never having seen it, I'll assume), why should you put down your hard earned money on this set? The first reason is that it is fun. This is enjoyable, fairly light entertainment. Unlike the first two seasons which are straight out candy, season three has some substance. It's a cake as opposed to the cotton candy of its predecessors; still sweet, still often without any deeper meaning, but thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying nonetheless.
The acting is surprisingly good. For a group of young people, the third season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer goes a long way toward reminding the viewer that there is some legitimate young talent out there that is not simply defined by ridiculously good looks. That's not to say the adults on this show slouch; indeed, two of the best actors are, in fact, Anthony Stewart Head (Giles) and the amazing Harry Groener (the Mayor).
But, it is the younger talent that shines the brightest and star Sarah Michelle Gellar uses season three to come into her own, illustrating her range of emotion to make her character a great deal more real. Gellar does more than simply weep over Angel and kick butt in this season; for the first time there are real scenes of her strategizing and reasoning. Gellar does an excellent job using facial expressions and body language to clue the viewer in to what her character is thinking.
The real winner of the season has to be Alyson Hannigan, who makes every scene with Willow pop. Hannigan comes alive especially in "The Wish" and "Dopplegangland" where she is forced to play alternate versions of her Willow character and she does so with complete competence and convincing performances. Hannigan gets the opportunity to start drawing Willow out of her insulated life and she makes the transformation gradual and subtle enough to seem quite real.
As with the prior two seasons, the show works on both the surface level and as an allegory for growing up. As the gang approaches graduation, the obvious parallels between leaving school and leaving childhood are exploded for the viewer, but it is done in an entertaining way. For those who are fans of the series, this is a great chance to sit back and respect what a deep game series creator Joss Whedon is playing. Angel's resurrection is related to events in Season 7, the emergence of Anya to replace Cordelia (who would go onto Angel in the next year), it's impressive what a big picture Whedon was playing with.
All in all, the third season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer is essential to anyone who likes comedy-infused horror or coming of age science fiction/fantasy pieces because it exemplifies the best that can happen when one tries to defy all the genres, but still make something meaningful for fans of them.
For a better understanding of what this boxed set entails, please check out my reviews of episodes contained within, like:
"Bad Girls" / "Consequences"
"Enemies" / "Earshot"
"Graduation Day, Parts 1 & 2"
For other television reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!
© 2011, 2008, 2004 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.