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BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER
Season Three

Review by Ed Nguyen

Stars: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nicholas Brendon, Alyson Hannigan, Charisma Carpenter, David Boreanaz, Seth Green, Anthony Stewart Head, Eliza Dushku, Alexis Denisof
Directors:  Various
Audio: English, Spanish, and French Dolby Surround
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Video: full-frame, color
Studio: 20th-Century Fox
Features: season three overview, selected episode commentaries, featurettes, interviews, selected scripts, still gallery
Length: 1060 minutes
Release Date: January 7, 2003

"Isn't it weird how slaying always makes you hungry and horny?" - Faith

Episodes ****

Buffy, the Vampire Slayer is the bubbly, wisecracking brainchild of creator Jose Whedon.  The roots of this popular television show can be traced back to a 1992 film of the same name, starring Kristy Swanson.  While admittedly not a great film, it still introduced the character of Buffy Summers, a perky high-school cheerleader who one day discovers that her destiny is to be a vampire slayer.  The film featured catchy witticisms, plenty of dead vampires, and as a finale, a high school gym burning down.

A few years later, in 1996, the fledgling WB television network decided to air thirteen episodes of Jose Whedon's television series based on the film.  The series was never meant to be more than filler material for earlier new series which had flopped, but apparently someone forgot to tell Whedon this!  He infused his show with such wit and charm that it quickly became an enormously popular hit among the younger demographics.  Teens could laugh with approval at Buffy's often-hilarious malapropisms while she seriously dusted one vampire after another, yet they could also relate to her cringingly-embarrassing ordeals as a mediocre high school student.  Even better, they could vicariously experience what it was like to have superpowers and beat up the forces of evil in one exciting fight after another.

The television show picked up where the movie ended.  Buffy Summers (now portrayed by Sarah Michelle Gellar), after having burned down her school's gym, has re-located to Sunnydale, California for a fresh and anonymous start.  Her resolution to leave all that vampire-slaying fiasco behind her comes to no avail, for the new school librarian, Giles, is expecting her.  He is a Watcher, and his sacred duty is to serve as her mentor and teacher, preparing Buffy for her inescapable destiny.  This entails strict training, constant studying, and no social life.  For a teen-ager?  It's unfathomable!

Buffy's new friends eventually join in the fun, too.  They include the school geek Xander (Brendon), the brainy wicca gal Willow (Hannigan), and the pretty, popular girl Cordelia (Carpenter), a reluctant on-and-off participant.  There's even a mysterious vampire named Angel who seems more friend than foe.  Later in the series, further additions would include the werewolf Oz (Green) and a few new slayers, too.

While the first season established the show as a sleeper hit, the second season truly set the foundation for the Buffy mythology.  During the course of the second season, Buffy falls in love with Angel, whom she eventually is forced to kill after he turns evil.  Also, her mother discovers Buffy's secret life and proves incapable of handling such shocking news.  She ill-advisedly turns Buffy away.  Devastated, loveless, and now homeless, Buffy runs away from Sunnydale, abandoning her friends, her Watcher, and her destiny.  Thus, on this rather sad note, did the second season end!

The third season commenced at the start of what would have been Buffy Summers' senior year at Sunnydale High.  I have some quick goodies on the twenty-two episodes of this season below, so read on!

Episode 1: Anne  "You've got guts.  I think I'd like to slice you open and play with them."  A young waitress, Anne (it's really Buffy), has settled into a new town.  Alone and friendless, she goes about her meaningless existence.  However, events transpire (involving a wicked demon that enslaves people for menial labour) which eventually force Buffy to emerge from her cocoon of guilt over having killed Angel.

Episode 2: Dead Man's Party  "I have not only the right but also a nearly physical sensation of pleasure at the thought of keeping her out of school.  I'd describe myself as tingly."  Sunnydale is still infested by demons and vampires, but Buffy's return is met with a less-than-enthusiastic response from her school, her friends and even her mother.  Feeling at odds, Buffy considers running away again.  This episode showcases a powerful performance by Sarah Michelle Gellar.

Episode 3: Faith, Hope & Trick  "Check out Slut-O-Rama and her Disco Dave."  Everyone's favorite "so-bad-she's-good" girl, Faith, has arrived in town!  She's super-sultry, she's ultra-streetwise, and she's a vampire slayer, too!  Eliza Dushku practically steals the show as the new vampire slayer with a terrible secret.

Episode 4: Beauty and the Beasts  "Buffy Summers, reporting for sanity."  While Buffy is stuck in student counseling (for aggressive tendencies, no less!), someone or something is apparently mauling Sunnydale students!  What else is new?  Could it be Oz, the resident werewolf?  Or has an evil vampire from the past returned to cause more havoc in Sunnydale?

Episode 5: Homecoming  "Van? The homecoming queen doesn't go to the dance in a van. Use your head."  Cordelia battles Buffy in a ludicrous, catty campaign to see who will become the next homecoming queen.  Along the way, they get caught in a most dangerous game, wherein a handful of assassins has been hired to slay Sunnydale's two slayers.  None of these killers even stop to contemplate Cordelia's insistence that she isn't a slayer!

Episode 6: Band Candy  "Mom started borrowing my clothes.  There should be an age limit on lycra pants."  This is a really cute episode!  Magical candy has turned all the adults in Sunnydale into irresponsible adolescents.  Even Giles and Buffy's mom get it on, and it's up to Buffy and friends to stop all this evil, evil madness!

Episode 7: Revelations  "Interesting lady.  Can we kill her?"  Every slayer needs a Watcher.  Faith doesn't have one, so a female taskmaster is appointed to this role.  Unfortunately, her arrival, and a revelation about a dangerous secret that Buffy has been hiding, threatens to splinter friendships apart.  This episode features Buffy's first fight against Faith!

Episode 8: Lover's Walk  "Get out of Sunnydale.  That's a good thing.  What kind of moron would ever want to come back here?"  Spike, last season's screwy vampire du jour, has returned!  He has a plan - kidnap Willow and force her create a special magic potion for him.  It's up to Buffy and friends to save Willow.  This is a fun episode but ends on a very down note for most everyone, except happy-go-lucky Spike.

Episode 9: The Wish  "Why me?  Why do I get impaled?  Why do I get bitten by snakes?"  Cordelia wishes Buffy had never come to Sunnydale.  Oops!  A vengeance demon grants her the wish.  Suddenly, Cordelia is thrust into an evil alternate reality in which the Master, a first season vampire lord, has conquered Sunnydale and turned Xander and Willow into vampires.  This is a dark episode where, again, things turn out very badly for the good guys, though the alternate reality Giles eventually saves the day....sort of.

Episode 10: Amends  "Nothing like a roaring fire to keep away the blistering heat."  It's Christmas time in hot Sunnydale, and a ghost from the past has begun tormenting one of Buffy's friends.  The ghost's goal is soon revealed - she wants Buffy dead!  This episode features another strong dramatic performance by Sarah Michelle Gellar.

Episode 11: Gingerbread   "Just remember, lift a finger against me, and you'll have to answer to MOO."  After two young children are apparently killed in a ritual murder in the local park, Buffy's mother creates Mothers Opposed to the Occult to rid Sunnydale of witches, slayers, and other unsavory characters.  Unfortunately, her list of bad elements to be eliminated happens to include Buffy, too!  Has her mother gone mad?  Find out!

Episode 12: Helpless  "If I was at full slayer power, I'd be punning right about now."  A psychotic vampire is on the prowl and has his sights squarely set on Buffy.  Even worse, a mysterious malady has robbed Buffy of her powers on the eve of her eighteenth birthday.  When she is trapped in a house with the vampire, Buffy must rely solely on her wits to stay alive.

Episode 13: The Zeppo  "It must be really hard when all your friends have, like, superpowers, and you're like this little nothing....You're the useless part of the group.  You're the Zeppo."  Cordelia is always ready to let loose with a penetrating, tact-free insult, and this time, Xander is the unfortunate target of her wrath.  This stand-alone episode is outstanding fun and focuses upon the humorous missteps of Xander, including a romp with Faith, while the rest of the Scooby Gang are out saving the world or some other nonsense.

Episode 14: Bad Girls "When are ya gonna get this, B?  Life for a slayer is very simple -want... take... have."  After the fiasco of Helpless, Giles has been removed from the post of Watcher.  A new and wimpy Watcher, Wesley, has been assigned to instruct Buffy.  However, he exhibits poor control over Buffy, much less Faith, our resident Bad Girl vampire slayer.  With such a clueless Watcher, Faith decides to initiate Buffy into some naughty and delinquent fun.  This is a delicious episode, but one whose surprising conclusion slowly turns Faith to the dark side.

Episode 15: Consequences  "In fact, I am here to watch girls.  Uh - uh, Buffy and Faith, to be specific."  With Wesley still bumbling about (and going ga-ga over Cordelia), Faith's rebellious tendencies begin to turn her towards evil, especially after the stunning conclusion of Bad Girls.  In the episode's highlight, Buffy and Faith clash once again in a battle of the slayers.

Episode 16: Doppelgangland  "Will, gotta say, not lovin' the new you."  The alternate reality succubus Willow, from The Wish, has been inadvertently summoned into this reality.  No one notices the switch until after she holds a local dance club hostage.  Hannigan absolutely shines in her best spotlight role to date in the series, playing evil Willow and good Willow and good Willow pretending to be evil while evil Willow pretends to be good!  Whew!  This episode is one of the gems of the third season!

Episode 17: Enemies  "Demons wanting money... whatever happened to the still-beating heart of a virgin?  No one has any standards anymore."  Faith has finally abandoned her friends and in fact means to betray them!  Now in cahoots with a new sugar-daddy (the town mayor, who is secretly a demi-demon with insidious plans of his own), Faith launches a diabolical plot to take the life of Sunnydale's other vampire slayer, Buffy!

Episode 18: Earshot  "You had sex with Giles?  On the hood of a police car?  Twice?!"  Buffy develops telepathic powers after slaying a demon.  Suddenly, she can read the thoughts of everyone around her, much to her amusement.  However, the constantly droning voices in her head soon drive her to the brink of insanity even as she struggles to discover the identity of a person with thoughts about killing students.  This episode was originally withheld because it had the misfortune of having been scheduled to air just after the real-life student shootings incident in Columbine.  Fortunately, it's back now, so many fans will get an opportunity to watch this often very funny episode.

Episode 19: Choices  "I'm sorry, Buffy.  This conversation is reserved for those who actually have a future."  With graduation approaching, Buffy faces a dilemma.  Either she can go away to college, lead a normal existence, and live to a ripe old age.  Or, she can remain in dark Sunnydale to battle evil monsters and eventually be killed by something slimy and nasty.  What is a slayer to do?  Meanwhile, Sunnydale's evil mayor schemes about his mysterious Ascension Day.

Episode 20: The Prom  "Well, if Anya tries to get you killed, put me down for a big I-told-you-so."  Anya, the vengeance demon formerly responsible for all the chaos in The Wish, is now trapped in the body of a teenaged girl.  Overcome by her new feelings of adolescence, she even asks Xander out to the prom!  Oh yes, and some monsters threaten to crash the prom, but you know, there's Buffy and yeah, she saves the day and all that.  There is a touching scene at the end in which all the students offer Buffy an award of recognition for always seeming to be around at the right time whenever monsters popped up.

Episode 21: Graduation Day, Part 1  "You look lovely, perfect for the ascension.  Any boys that manage to survive will be lining up to ask you out."  The mayor is excited about his upcoming Day of Ascension, and he does not want any foil-ups.  He sends out Faith to tie up loose ends, which includes preventing Buffy from interfering with the mayor's plans.  To this end, Faith poisons one of Buffy's friends and then engages her in a final, titanic battle to the death!

Episode 22: Graduation Day, Part 2  "Great.  We'll get him cornered and then you can sneeze on him."  Buffy has quit her Watcher.  Faith is missing.  The mayor is about to ascend into some horrible, big serpent thing that's going to destroy Sunnydale!  Will anyone find a weakness in time to defeat this invulnerable demonic behemoth?  Watch the finale and find out!

Needless to say, Buffy does somehow manage to save the day.  The TV series, of course, would continue for many more seasons afterwards.  In later seasons, Buffy would enter college, gain a mysterious sister, return as a school counselor for Sunnydale High, and even die!  For real!  Faith would also return in later seasons, and Xander and Anya would even become engaged.  But throughout these seasons, the show maintained its solid reputation for consistently witty screenplays and energetic, winsome performances.  Most fans of the show agree, though, that the high school years offered the best episodes of the series.  Of those, the third season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is arguably the best of the bunch.

Video ***

The 22 episodes of this third season are spread over 6 DVDs, or about 3-4 episodes per DVD.  Fans who have purchased the previous two seasons on DVD will notice a marked improvement in the quality of the image.  The main reason for this is a step up from 16mm to 35mm film stock used for photography.  As a result, the graininess and relatively poor mastering of the first two seasons on DVD has been rectified.  The new image quality is not perfect and is still a little grainy in the dark scenes, most noticeably on the DVDs containing 4 episodes.  However, even considering how much information is stored on these DVDS, the image is definitely superior to that within the previous Buffy sets.

Audio ****

The episodes have been outfitted with a Dolby Surround audio.  Considering the numerous slam-bang fight scenes, roaring monsters, and general chaos that permeate the entire season, this was a wise decision on the producers' part.  The surround sound audio does a fantastic job of drawing listeners in Buffy's world.  It's loud, it's booming, it's everywhere, and it adds that extra oomph to the on-screen excitement.

Just one word - the menus are very loud.  You might want to consider keeping the volume low until you actually start watching an episode!

Features *** 1/2

There are a number of interesting extras spread over the 6 DVDs.  Unfortunately, the packaging does not indicate where they are!  Unless you feel like searching the DVDs yourself, just look below for some quick answers!

disc 1 - The original script for Faith, Hope, and Trick is provided with this episode.

disc 2 - The original scripts for Band Candy and Lovers Walk are provided with their respective episodes.

disc 3 -   The original script for The Wish is provided with this episode.  A separate Special Features section contains a stills gallery of 30 large photographs and 2 featurettes.  One featurette is a wry look at how the writers and creators come up with the show's hilarious Buffyspeak.  The second featurette discusses the overall story arc of the third season; I would suggest not watching this until you've seen all the episodes, but it's up to you.

disc 4 - Commentary tracks for Helpless by writer David Fury, for Bad Girls by writer Doug Petrie, and for Consequences by director Michael Gershman can be accessed from their respective episodes.  Also included is an interview with Jose Whedon about the character of Faith; this can be accessed from Bad Girls or Consequences.  These are all pivotal episodes, as they concern Giles losing his post as Watcher and Faith turning against her friends.

disc 5 - Earshot has a commentary track by Jane Espensen.  An interview with Jose Whedon, discussing the controversy over this episode, can be accessed from either Enemies or Earshot.

disc 6 - An interview with Jose Whedon can be accessed from either part of Graduation Day and offers a wrap-up perspective on the season finale.  A Special Features section also contains  separate featurettes about the wardrobe, weapons, monsters, and special effects of the Buffy show.

In total, that's 4 scripts, 4 commentaries, 3 interviews with Whedon, 5 featurettes, 1 interview with the monster designer, and 1 stills gallery!  Not too shabby.  The original scripts are fairly close to the final product but do have some minor differences.  Unfortunately, they are a little hard to navigate, and there's no easy way to skip quickly to certain portions.  While the featurettes are fairly short in length, they do offer a good deal of information.  Ditto for the interviews.  All in all, Warner Brothers practically squeezed features into every last inch of space on these DVDs, so Buffy fans should be quite happy.

Summary:

Many fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer consider the third season to be the finest in the television series' run.  It established the core of the Buffy mythology and contained some of the best episodes.  If you are a Buffy fan, this is one DVD boxed set you don't want to miss!