Season 3 differs in many respects from S2, but in one way that’s very important for purposes of my posts: it’s much less dependent on metaphor to tell the story. The writers still use metaphors, but they aren’t the focus of the story the way they were in S2. Season 3 places greater emphasis on plot line. I don’t mean that as a criticism; whether you like this better or not is, in my view, mostly a matter of taste.
I think there’s a good reason for less metaphor, namely, that S3 has much less sex in it than S2 did. Let’s face it, American TV isn’t particularly open to sex in the early evening time slots (or even later for that matter). If you’re going to tell a story about a 17 year old girl having sex, it’s probably safest in metaphor. Season 3 has a little bit of sex in it, but the sex isn’t the centerpiece of the season the way it was in S2; Buffy’s faced that issue. Season 3 is about other aspects of character and maturity now that she’s a high school senior. That means I’ll be giving greater emphasis to those issues.
There is a metaphor in Anne, but it’s pretty straightforward: Buffy sends herself to Hell for her sin of killing Angel. I don’t mean the Hell dimension we see late in the episode. No, Buffy’s in Hell from the moment we see her. She’s living in Hell even if looks like part of Los Angeles. This becomes apparent in several ways: the diner where she’s working is called “Helen’s Kitchen”, an obvious play on Hell’s Kitchen; in her first interaction with Ken he tells her that “This is not a good place for a kid to be. You get old fast here. (Buffy looks up at him knowingly) The thing that drains the life out of them is despair.” Later, when she really is in Hell, he equates despair with the lack of hope: “What is Hell but the total absence of hope? The substance, the tactile proof of despair.” IOW, the despair, the lack of hope, of those trapped on the streets is precisely what makes those streets hellish.
During her final conversation with Buffy in Becoming 2, Joyce asked her, “have you tried not being the Slayer?” Buffy’s trying that now; she has given up on her destiny. She’s no longer committed to her authentic self because she’s simply accepting herself as an object in the world (for example, the way the restaurant patrons objectify her). The song lyrics which we hear as Buffy walks away from Ken after they first meet set the theme and the challenge: Why did I come again? / To find my own way to freedom/ And the change is gonna come / I'm gonna find my way / Find my way / Find my way back to freedom.
The parallels between B/A and Lily/Rickie reinforce this. DreamAngel tells Buffy that he’ll stay with her “Forever. That's the whole point.” Rickie repeats these exact same words in describing the heart tattoos he and Lily got. Lily, like Buffy, has given up her own identity, and they end up in Hell together, that being the place where one truly does lose one’s identity (“I’m no one”). Ricky remembered Lily’s name long after he’d forgotten his own, just as Buffy remembers Angel even after giving up her own name in favor of “Anne”.
Along the way, Buffy’s statements to Lily could really apply to herself, while Lily suggests that Buffy actually has brought this on herself (as, to some extent, she has):
“Lily: …Why would this happen to him?
Buffy: That's *not* the point. (Lily calms a bit) These things happen all the time. You can't just . . . close your eyes and hope that they're gonna go away.
Lily: Is it 'cause of you?
Buffy: (confused) What?
Lily: You know about . . . monsters and stuff. You could have brought this with you.”
Lily, like Buffy, is trying to deny her authentic self, an attempt the name changes make obvious for both of them. Joyce asked Giles, “And who, exactly, is she [meaning Buffy]?” The question seems ironic because of her name change, but the very next scene will begin to answer the question. Lily came up and started to address her with her real name: “Buff—“.
Joss set up Buffy’s decision to reclaim her identity as the ultimate test of existential authenticity. Remember this quotation from my post on Lie to Me:
“A critical claim in existentialist thought is that individuals are always free to make choices and guide their lives towards their own chosen goal or "project". The claim holds that individuals cannot escape this freedom, even in overwhelming circumstances. For instance, even an empire's colonized victims possess choices: to submit to rule, to negotiate, to act in complicity, to commit suicide, to resist nonviolently, or to counter-attack.
Although external circumstances may limit individuals..., they cannot force a person to follow one of the remaining courses over another. In this sense the individual still has some freedom of choice.”
Buffy finds herself actually in the most overwhelming situation imaginable: she’s outnumbered, she’s trapped in Hell, and her potential allies have already given up. In the face of all this, she retains her freedom to choose; she just had to find it. Buffy definitively reclaims her chosen (heh) goal – her authentic self – when she makes the choice to fight, namely when she declares to the guard, in one of the show’s great moments, that “I’m Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.” Inspired by Buffy’s example, Lily then shows that she has the courage to make a choice of her own and push Ken off the ledge. And both of them find their way back to freedom as a result.
Two quick points:
Joyce blamed Giles for Buffy’s departure. This seemed pretty harsh to me when I first saw the episode, but it actually has some merit. Giles has been a secret influence on Buffy’s life, guiding her on a journey that excluded Joyce. And it was Giles who insisted, in Passion, that Buffy not tell her mother that she was the Slayer:
“Buffy: …I'm gonna have to tell her something. (sits on a wall and looks at Giles) The truth?
Giles: (approaches her, waving his finger) No. You-you-you-you can't do that.”
Buffy had to violate this instruction at the worst possible moment. That left Joyce in the position of reacting badly, for which she no doubt blames herself while she’s taking it out on Giles.
The attempts at slayage by Xander, Willow, Oz and Cordy raise an interesting question: Why not resoul all the vamps? After all, Willow just resouled Angel. I think there’s actually a reason beyond the fact that this would destroy the premise of the show. It can’t be done. It’s not even clear that Willow did the restoration spell herself, much less that she has the power to do it again. Unfortunately, the vamps still need to be slain.
Trivia notes: (1) “This time it’s personal.” comes from Jaws: The Revenge. (2) “What is Hell but the total absence of hope?” This is standard, among poets at least. The sign over the entrance to Hell in Dante’s Inferno reads “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”. Also see John Milton, Paradise Lost, describing what Satan sees when he first opens his eyes in Hell: “No light, but rather darkness visible/Served only to discover sights of woe/Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace/And rest can never dwell, hope never comes/That comes to all.” (3) The scenes in the factory pay visual tribute to the Fritz Lang film Metropolis. (4) There’s a visual joke at one point in the scene where Buffy is fighting the guards, as Buffy is holding both a hammer and a sickle, the symbols of communism or worker revolt against oppressive capitalism. I think the scene can be interpreted two very different ways, either as a revolt against capitalism or as Buffy seizing the symbols of the communist oppressors in order to liberate the workers.