Fairytales get a dark twist when Joyce discovers the slain bodies of two young children and campaigns for justice in Sunnydale: “Silence is this town’s disease. This isn’t our town anymore. It belongs to the monsters and witches and slayers. I say it’s time we take our town of Sunnydale back.” In Gingerbread (episode 11), a witch-hunt ensues when themes of censorship, ostracized groups in society, fear and helplessness are examined. And when Buffy doesn’t see the point in battling the evil that seems to still win in this world, Angel reminds her, “We do it because there’s things worth fighting for.” In a hilarious little tag, Amy the witch turns herself into a tiny rodent, which is a storyline that gets picked up again several seasons later.
“If I’m not the Slayer, what do I do? What do I have to offer?” Buffy whimpers as she discovers her powers are suddenly fading. In an episode that calls into question Giles’ loyalty to Buffy, Helpless (episode 12) sees Buffy undergo a Watcher’s Council mandated test without her powers. Their father-daughter relationship, Buffy’s ingenuity and Giles’ loyalty all come up in an episode that changes Giles’ link to the Watcher’s Council.
“It must be really hard when all your friends have superpowers – slayer, werewolf, witches, vampire – and you’re like, this little nothing,” Cordelia snipes at Xander in The Zeppo (episode 13). A Xander-centric episode, the audience follows him on an awkward, dangerous and hilarious journey for a day as he races against time to save the world – or at least the high school. Buffy’s storyline is vague and hyperbolic – “we have to save the world!” – and becomes a tongue-in-cheek account of what she usually goes through on a weekly basis. In a clever, interesting and strange episode, Xander and Buffy’s save-the-world stories intersect beautifully, showing a Xander who has heart, courage and lots o’ sass.
The arrival of the new Watcher, bumbling, rigid Wesley Wyndam-Price, (Alexis Denisof, Angel, Dollhouse), makes Giles look like a world of cool. In Bad Girls (episode 14), Faith encourages Buffy to enjoy the rush they get from slaying and Buffy slowly begins to slide into dangerous territory. A horrific accident causes both slayers to rethink their choices and actions as the Mayor chooses this moment in time to finally achieve a long, sought after goal. A turning point in the season, this episode begins to show Faith’s downward spiral, as the evil that threatens Sunnydale grows more powerful.
Dealing with morality, guilt and denial are all explored in Consequences (episode 15) as secrets are revealed and choices are made. “Going down this path will ruin you. You don’t have to disappear into the darkness,” Angel tells Faith, who at the end of the episode makes her choice, affecting the path of nearly all the characters.
“Do you know how boring twelfth graders are?!” Anya asks, returning from an earlier episode to take back what’s hers: power. Frustrated with being thought of as a doormat, Dopplegangland (episode 16) finds Willow battling evil Willow (“That’s me as a vampire? So evil and skanky. And I think I’m kinda gay!”). A strange spell concocted by Willow and Anya ends up exploring the splitting of the self, discovering yourself, taking someone for granted and wanting to return home.
Events are kicked up a notch in Enemies (episode 17) when Faith dives deeper into the dark side and an elaborate plan to reveal the truth ends up causing distance between Angel and Buffy. In several shocking twists and turns, a major loss results as fear, shock and betrayal affect several characters.
In an episode that was both controversial and profound, Earshot (episode 18) finds Buffy, infected by a demon’s power, able to hear the thoughts of everyone around her. But the power goes from fun to painful as Buffy falls under the weight of the pressure and sadness that engulf her. Racing against time to find a student who plans to kill everyone in the high school, Buffy finds the lost soul and reminds him, “Every single person down there is ignoring your pain because they’re too busy with their own.” Hitting the right emotional and humour marks, this episode examined fear, faith, belonging and healing for a mass audience.
As graduation day approaches, everyone is forced to consider his or her future, whether it’s leaving Sunnydale or being tied to it indefinitely. Choices (episode 19) finds Buffy taking proactive action against the Mayor instead of waiting to find out what evil he’ll bring. But the face-off with the Mayor results in her relationship with Angel shaken and in doubt. Willow also shows her courage and growing powers in the occult when she’s put in a dangerous situation against Faith. Friendship, choices, the unknown future and strength are all explored in this episode.
The high school prom in Sunnydale wouldn’t be an event without several hellhounds ready to eat glammed-up students. In The Prom (episode 20), Anya returns to ask a perplexed Xander to the prom, a wise Joyce reminds Angel that Buffy is only a girl and Xander discovers a secret about Cordelia that changes his feelings toward her. Angel delivers a heartbreaking line to Buffy (“you should be with someone who can take you into the light”) and is forced to make a difficult decision. And in a deeply powerful scene, the Sunnydale High senior class takes a moment to recognize their “Class Protector,” as Buffy stands in awe. In a romantic and bittersweet ending the episode pauses to celebrate family, kindness, recognition, goodbyes and gratitude – right before the explosive season finale.
Graduation Day (episodes 21 & 22) culminates in an intense and beautifully choreographed fight between the two slayers that ends with Buffy causing harm to both Faith and herself. In an ethereal shared dream, both women discuss the upcoming battle as Faith gives Buffy a clue to win. Buffy’s link to the Watcher’s Council changes, as does Wesley’s role. And as the Mayor takes the stage for his final speech, a well-executed plan goes underway to stop the rising evil. Punches are thrown, walls crumble and courage takes top billing as the students of Sunnydale protect their own. Explosive and exciting, the third season finale saw a poetic end to the place that tormented and sometimes protected Buffy and her friends. As some characters die, leave or disappear, the gang stops to consider the past three years, “Guys, take a moment to deal with this. We survived high school.”
The third season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer forced Buffy and the gang to examine their relationships, their connections to each other and their purpose. Forced to face adult situations and say goodbye to their adolescence, each character is taken to new places that is interesting for the character and totally entertaining for the audience. All 22 serialized episodes introduced new and recurring characters as stories stretched, grew and culminated in shocking conclusions. Season three became a well-thought out and fascinating arc that concluded high school and took the characters and stories to a brand new future.