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Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Prom

[Updated April 30, 2013]

Looking back on it, I find it hard to believe that I didn’t much care for The Prom when it first aired. Now I love it and can re-watch it whenever I need a feel-good moment. I’m not even sure any more why I wasn’t thrilled with it. Now I see it as Buffy’s just reward.


From Homecoming: “Because this is all I do. This is what my life is. (lowers her head and steps into the room) You couldn't understand. (shrugs) I just thought... Homecoming Queen. (smiles) (Cordelia keeps respectfully silent) I could pick up a yearbook someday and say, I was there. I went to high school, I had friends, and... for one moment, I got to live in the world. (smiles) And there'd be proof. Proof that I was chosen for something other than this.” Buffy gets her “perfect high school moment” here, not because she was a normal girl, but precisely because she was the Slayer.
Joyce really annoyed me on first watch when she told Angel to leave town. In retrospect, though, she was right. The “Buffy & Angel 4ever” scribbling should have clued me in. Angel may be forever, but Buffy isn’t. The Mayor was right about that among other things. Even the teaser shows them as incompatible beneath the cuddling. Angel’s dream reinforced this by showing him that his desire for Buffy would consume her. He really shouldn’t have needed Joyce’s push; he should have left on his own. Still, credit where credit is due – when push came to shove, he did make the right call.
Buffy’s desire to be with Angel actually prevents her from growing up. Her own words condemn her: “Buffy: Don't what? Don't love you? I'm sorry. You know what? I didn't know that I got a choice in that. I'm never gonna change. I can't change.” Inability to change is what freezes someone into childhood; it’s the condition of a vampire, not of a person. Earlier in the conversation Buffy said she was supposed to be growing up. Moving past her crush on Angel is an essential part of that.
Note the similarity between their conversation here and that of James and Grace in IOHEFY:
IOHEFY: Buffy:  Then tell me you don't love me!
Cut to 1955.
James:  Say it!
Ms. Newman:  Is that what you need to hear? Will that help? I don't.”

The Prom: “Buffy: …. I want my life to be with you.
Angel: I don't.”

In both cases, that’s what she needed to hear. Buffy admits it and Willow confirms it in their conversation afterwards.
Angel’s decision to break up with Buffy left her in a situation similar to that of Tucker Wells, who was rejected when he asked a girl to go to the prom. The contrast between Buffy’s reaction and that of Tucker could hardly be any more obvious. Killing the hellhounds Tucker unleashed out of his resentment metaphorically killed her own resentment about Angel and paved the way for his later appearance at the dance.
In its own way, The Prom could be called “Amends”. Xander makes up with Cordy. Angel makes up with Buffy. The whole school makes up with Buffy. As we’ll soon see, that latter step is essential to the story.
The award to Buffy is heart-warming of course, but the way Jonathan began the presentation was perhaps a bit odd: “We’re not good friends”. In one sense this statement comes from his confrontation with Buffy in Earshot: “JONATHAN Stop saying my name like we're friends! We're not friends!” (Original viewers missed the resonance of this, and the significance of having Jonathan make the presentation, because Earshot didn’t air on schedule. h/t deidre) It goes beyond just Jonathan, though -- it’s true for all the other students as well. There is a reason for saying it in my view and we’ll see it in the finale.
Trivia notes: (1) Buffy’s “miles to go” quote is from Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. (2) The marriage service in Angel’s dream is from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. (3) When Buffy and Angel meet at the butcher’s, behind Angel it’s possible to see the logo on the truck of the meat company. It’s the Culver City Meat Company, the slogan of which is “You can’t beat our meat”. Really. (4) Buffy’s phrase “pulling a Carrie at the prom” refers to the classic 1976 film by Brian DePalma based on the book by Stephen King. (5) Buffy says she’s “going to party like it’s ….”, leaving off the “1999” from the Prince song. This episode aired in May 1999. (6) Buffy’s description of her class protector award as a “little toy surprise” comes from the toy in every box of Crackerjack. (7) Sarah Michelle Gellar once listed The Prom as her favorite episode.

18 comments:

  1. Interesting that the wedding in Angel's dream is from the Anglican book of Common Prayer, since Liam (I assume) was Catholic...

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    1. Well, the English ruled all of Ireland in the mid-1700s, so the Church of England was established there too.

      Liam could have been Catholic, but there were plenty of Protestants in Ireland. I'd suggest that we judge by his accent, but....

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    2. I actually more was thinking he was Catholic because of his oppressive moralistic father, and his obsession with nuns...

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    4. The stock footage exterior shot of the church in his dream is actually of St. Paul's Cathedral in Pittsburgh, PA. It is Roman Catholic.

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  2. I assume he very likely was Catholic. He sure seemed familiar with confession when he first met Dru. And yes, the nuns.

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  3. I remember reading exhausting conversations about this topic some years ago. The answer boiled down to which class Liam belonged to, which was kinda left open to interpretation. If he belonged to the upper class, he'd be Anglican if he was a member of the merchant class he'd be Catholic.

    I don't necessarily believe his behavior with Dru indicates an association with Catholicism. Plus I think the Anglican religion has similar religious orders.

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    1. The Anglican Church definitely has confession. However, I wasn't aware that its priests would assign Hail Marys or Acts of Contrition (as Angel did in Becoming). That's why I assumed the scene in Becoming reflected Catholicism.

      I'm hardly an expert on this, though, so I could easily be wrong.

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    2. Yeah, me neither. The conversation about it was very thought provokng though, discussing the class and religious conflicts of the era. I forget where it was.

      The inconsistency in the actual story probably comes from the writers own ignorance on the subject.

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    3. The Buffy Wiki says that Liam's father was a linen and silk merchant, I think gleaned from Angel flashbacks. I think that may be more support that he was raised Catholic.

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    4. I'll buy that. Galway was/is predominantly Catholic, so the odds of Liam being raised Catholic are very high anyway--even more so for the merchant class.

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  4. For me, this episode ranks among the top 5 most tear-inducing. But yeah, the monster of the week is kind of silly, and some of the references are a bit too on-the-nose. Thankfully, they're not what sticks in my mind years later...except for the fact that the Wells family has issues.

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  5. I don't know why bit I've always assumed that Giles had a talk with Angel and this is what prompted his choice to come to the prom. I just re-watched the episode and don't really find any evidence to support this theory. However, it still seems more likely, to me, than Angel deciding post-butcher shop conversation to come on his own.

    Even though there is no real basis for my theory I like it and will stick with it. Giles stepping in with Angel would mirror Joyce's action at the beginning of the episode.

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  6. Angel is Catholic. Notice in Pangs that he directs Giles to the catholic priest Father Gabriel? Angel knew him well enough to know his connection to the town suggesting he was taking one on one instruction. I think the prayer book thing is just a flub. Maybe Joss didn't have a catholic missal handy?

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    1. I agree. I think Joss was just familiar with the Anglican service from his time in England. They use the Anglican service every time in the series, IIRC.

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