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Two quick notes before we get started...
1) I will be reviewing the episodes in bullet point form. This is because it makes the reviews simple to read, and helps break up the text.
2) If you are watching the show for the first time along with these reviews, please be warned that there may be a few spoilers for things that haven’t happened yet.
With that being said, let’s get started, shall we?
• I’m sure you’ve realised by now that, as a general rule, in order for me to find an episode great I have to be caught up in the episode emotionally. I mean deeper than the surface level feelings of swooning at all the characters. An episode needs to suck me in entirely...I’m gonna skip over how wrong that sounds. “Homecoming”, however, breaks that trend. With the exception of a brief heart-to-heart between Buffy and Cordelia in the cabin in the woods (see what I did there? Double the Jossness!), this episode isn’t emotionally captivating. It’s funny and interesting, but it’s not emotionally captivating. Yet I find myself adoring this episode as much as I do a lot of the emotionally complex ones. Perhaps it’s my love of survivalist plots (go watch ‘The Condemned’ and ‘Battle Royale’ right now!...after you’ve finished on “Shangel’s Reviews”, of course...), or perhaps it’s because watching Buffy and Cordelia working together is oddly wonderful, but this episode just works for me.
• I’m glad that Angel is still having trouble adjusting to being back from Hell. I’m still annoyed that he went from a crazed beast to pretty much back to normal within one episode. He was in Hell for hundreds of years. It should have taken him quite a while to adjust. You could argue that he still shows signs of adjusting for the next couple of episodes, but even so, it’s certainly not long enough to be realistic.
• Why did Buffy tell Angel about Scott now? He’s just got back from Hell! Give the guy a break! Was it to see Angel’s reaction to it to gauge how Angel is feeling about Buffy romantically? Perhaps. Whatever the reason was, I’ve always felt like Buffy should have waited a little while longer to tell Angel. He’s got enough going on already. Plus, ya know, Scott is going to break up with her a couple of days later anyway...
I cannot contain my excitement at Scott breaking up with Buffy. People say that Riley is boring (unjustified, in my opinion)…I present to you Scott Hope. Just typing his name makes me yawn. My reasons for being happy about the breakup extend beyond just getting this boring character out of the show (again, I love Fab Filippo. It’s the character that’s bad, not the actor). Scott Hope reinforced the fact that Buffy isn’t capable of having a successful relationship with a ‘normal’ guy. She has to constantly lie about where she’s going and what she’s doing. Imagine having to try to explain the fresh cuts and bruises every few days. Sure, Riley is ‘normal’ too, but he knows that Buffy is the Slayer and he can hold his own against vampires and demons.
Scott’s reasons for the breakup were completely justifiable. Buffy was constantly distracted. If I’m honest, I don’t really see the purpose that Scott Hope served beyond being a very temporary obstacle for the inevitable ‘Bangel’ reunion. Scott served no other purpose. At all. He chased Buffy for one episode, dated her for one episode, and then broke up with her in the following episode. Parker (who I hate) in season four at least served a purpose. He was the catalyst in Riley realising he had feelings for Buffy, and sleeping with el douche taught Buffy an emotional lesson about some men.
• The Mayor receives his first on-screen appearance during this episode! Yay! He’s been spoken about a few times in season two and season three, but this is his first appearance. The Mayor is my second favourite ‘Big Bad’ behind Angelus. He’s charming, intelligent, and hilariously funny, yet he can be genuinely evil and scary when he wants to be (“I’m going to eat her” and his reaction to Faith’s coma in the hospital immediately spring to mind). One of the best things about this terrific season, by far, is the father-daughter dynamic between The Mayor and Faith, which develops during the second half of the season.
All of the most memorable villains of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” have a deep emotional connection to the Scooby Gang. Angelus dated Buffy and killed Jenny, Glory had ties with Dawn, Dark Willow was a Scooby, and The Mayor has that wonderful dynamic with Faith. I’ve never met a villain in a television show that is so likeable! Not likeable as in a memorable villain (he is that too), but likeable as in “man, I wish this guy was my uncle”.
Another reason to love The Mayor: his aversion to germs. It’s so endearing! Here he is trying to ascend into a massive snake demon and destroy Sunnydale, yet he can’t touch your hand unless you’ve thoroughly washed it...including under your fingernails. To paraphrase Mr. Ronald Weasley, he needs to sort out his priorities.
• Another highlight of the episode was the yearbook photos. The yearbook photos themselves seem to represent what high school was like for the Scooby in question. Cordy looked great in her photo. As she was popular and adored in high school, this fits. Xander attempts to be suave and fails miserably. Since season one we’ve watched Xander try to fit in and impress people at Sunnydale High with limited results. He always seems like he’s trying too hard. It’s perfectly in character for him to try this pose for his yearbook photo. It’s interesting to note that in season five’s “The Replacement”, the confident side of Xander is suave. It just goes to show that if Xander were able to shed his insecurities, he’s capable of greatness. Willow’s photo took ages to take, and by the time it was taken her face had gone frowny. This sums Willow’s school life up perfectly. She’s positive and friendly to everyone, yet it always seems to backfire on her. Principal Snyder uses her for her teaching abilities and intelligence, a lot of students pick on Willow (I’m looking at you, Cordelia Chase and Harmony), and she doesn’t find her feet or figure out who she is until she gets to college. Without a doubt my favourite photo was Oz’s. His expression did not change once. His photo was as relaxed and monosyllabic as his personality. Cordelia, Willow, and Xander’s photos were full of energy! Oz’s photo was stoned.
• Honesty is a nice trait to have. However, there’s honest, and then there’s Cordelia. Cordy is a bitch to Buffy during the first half of this episode. She throws in Buffy’s face that she has two parents and Buffy doesn’t. Ouch. I’m surprised Buffy didn’t punch Cordelia after that. Cordelia’s self-involvement during the first section of this episode leads to this little gem...
Buffy: “You have no idea who you’re messing with.”
Cordy: “What, the Slayer?”
Buffy: “I’m not talking about the Slayer, I’m talking about Buffy. You’ve awakened the Prom Queen within, and that crown is going to be mine.”
• Mr. Trick: “Competition. Competition is a beautiful thing. It makes us strive. It makes us accomplish. Occasionally it makes us kill. We all have the desire to win. Whether we're human, vampire...or whatever the hell you are, my brother. You got them spiny-looking head things. I ain't never seen that before.”
Kulak: “I am Kulak, of the Miquot Clan.”
Mr. Trick: “Isn’t that nice...”
Mr. Trick: “Ladies, Gentlemen, spiny-headed looking creatures, welcome to Slayerfest ‘98”.
Have I mentioned how much I love Mr. Trick? He’s so memorable and sassy. When I met K. Todd Freeman at ‘Hallowhedon 5’, I got him to recite the “Welcome to Slayerfest ‘98” line. It was amazing.
The concept of ‘Slayerfest’ was a really intelligent idea. It’s intelligent of Mr. Trick to create it, as it means that there’s a high probability of killing the Slayer. It’s intelligent of the writing staff because the idea is just so damn entertaining. As I mentioned before, I’m a huge fan of survivalist plots. Anything like that usually grabs my attention because I have fun betting on who I think is going to win (it’s usually always the protagonist). In this instance, we knew that Buffy was going to win, but it didn’t detract from the excitement. Although, with that said, do Lyle Gorch and Frawley also win on account of being alive at the end? Hmmm….
• I’ve mentioned a few times that season three is my favourite season. There is very little in this near-perfect season that I dislike. I don’t dislike a single episode this season, the ‘Big Bad’ is great, the new Slayer is phenomenal...there is one thing that I despise, however. The ridiculous whirlwind romance between Xander and Willow.
Firstly, I refuse to believe that Willow would cheat on Oz. It’s so out of character for Willow to do this. While it’s not out of character for Xander to cheat, it is out of character for Xander to suddenly be attracted to Willow. Even if you view Xander’s speech to a comatose Willow in “Becoming Part Two” as a declaration of romantic feelings, it still feels incredibly forced to have Xander be magically attracted to Willow after showing no signs of it before or after this event. The whole romance came completely out of nowhere. With the exception of a little subtle hint of jealousy from Xander in the last episode, there was no build-up to this plot twist at all. It felt like nothing more than a convenient way to break up Xander and Cordelia in preparation for Cordelia to leave Sunnydale at the end of the season. In itself this isn’t that bad, but due to the rushed and unrealistic nature of the Xander-Willow romance, they created a way for Cordelia to leave the show at the expense of the characters they’d spent 3 years creating. If they wanted a way to write Cordelia off the show, why not just have Cordelia decide that her acting career meant more to her than Xander and then leave? Sure, it might have made some people temporarily dislike Cordelia, but at this point in time it would have been in character for Cordelia to make that choice. This is before the days of the selfless Cordelia that emerges after she moved to Los Angeles. The actions of Xander and Willow here aren’t in character. There were times in season one and two that I wanted Xander and Willow to become a couple. At one point I shipped them hard. By the time this story came around, that ship had sailed. Not like this! NOT LIKE THIS! The sad thing is that if Willow and Xander were single at this time, they’d be quite a cute couple. A forced one in the same context, but a cute one nonetheless.
• A special mention needs to be given to Buffy’s big board about her competition for Homecoming Queen. It’s a thing of beauty. It reminds me so much of Andrew’s ‘Big Board’ from season seven...I never thought I’d find myself finding parallels between Buffy and Andrew.
• Giles: “As long as fun is still in the mix.”
Buffy: “Sure. It’s not like anyone takes it that seriously *shatters bottle she’s holding*”.
I can’t watch that bit without giggling like a tiny schoolgirl.
• Fastball’s song “Fire Escape” plays over the video montage of Buffy and Cordelia trying to gain votes for Homecoming Queen, while the Slayerfest participants are training. Not only does the song work perfectly for the scene, but I have so much affection for this song. It’s definitely in my top 10 favourite Buffyverse songs of all time. It’s on my iPod. Fastball are actually still around today, so please go and support these Buffyverse alumni by buying their music off of iTunes or Amazon!
• Kulak is awesome. For a villain that only appears briefly in one episode, he is so memorable! The yellow skin, the Mohawk of spikes, the retractable forearm blades...it all works. A lot. I wish he’d survived longer. I also wish that another one of the Miquot Clan appeared down the line. They could have tried to kill Buffy in retaliation for what happened to Kulak, or they could have been locked up in the Initiative cells in season four.
• Xander: “Okay, let's not say something we'll regret later...”
Cordelia: “You crazy freak!”
Buffy: “Vapid whore!”
Xander: “...like that!”
Best. Exchange. Ever. A poll to those of you from the U.S.A.: Do people really get this worked up over trying to win a title like Homecoming Queen? It’s all so dramatic.
• There is a little TV wired up in the middle of the woods. It’s still not as shocking as Giles owning a television, but it’s still pretty weird. That must have been one long extension lead. The gorgeousness of Buffy and Cordelia’s dresses is highly distracting in this scene. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and sew my testicles back on.
• Faith: “Scott? There you are, honey! Hey, good news. The doctor says that the itching and the swelling and the burning should clear up, but we gotta keep using the ointment.”
My love for Faith quadrupled at this moment. Faith just cock-blocked Scott.
• Buffy: “You really love Xander?”
Cordelia: “Well, he kinda grows on you. Like a chia pet.”
Ah, true love.
• Two things I’ve learned about Cordelia in this episode...1) Never give her a gun. She’s the poster child for friendly-fire – “Cordelia, the spatula”. 2) Cordelia thinks that when you’re getting hunted down by assassins in the middle of nowhere a spatula would be more useful than a working telephone. Genius.
• Giles made jokes about the finger food. I don’t know when Giles developed a sense of humour that wasn’t sarcasm, but I like it. Then Giles goes to the library and gets knocked unconscious again. Colour me stunned.
• Using wet toilet paper to attach the transmitters to the Gruenshtahler brothers was excellent.
• I really like that the writers took the time to explain why Buffy wanted to be Homecoming Queen so badly. It really isn’t about winning at all for Buffy. She just wants to have something normal, something special. To realise that there is more to her life than just slaying and killing. I can completely empathise with her for that. Buffy has always wanted to be a normal, regular teenage girl. When she first arrived in Sunnydale, she’d “retired” from being a vampire slayer, and wanted a normal life. Giles coaxed her out of retirement, but she’s always been drawn to a regular life, which she can never have. Having something normal would have made all the difference for Buffy. For that reason alone, I’d have loved for Buffy to win Homecoming Queen. When Devon announced that there was a tie for Homecoming Queen, I was very excited. Of course, in typical Buffyverse fashion, the other two competitors were the joint-winners. All of that arguing, bickering, and campaigning was for nothing.
Quote Of The Episode
Cordelia: “I hear you, you redneck moron. You got a dress that goes with that hat?”
Lyle: “I'm gonna...”
Cordelia: “Rip out my innards, play with my eyeballs, boil my brain and eat it for brunch? Listen up, needle-brain. Buffy and I have taken out four of your cronies, not to mention your girlfriend.”
Cordelia: “Whatever. The point is, I haven't even broken a sweat. See, in the end, Buffy's just the runner-up. I'm the Queen. You get me mad, (*she gets in his face and glares at him*) what do you think I'm gonna do to you?”
I love how casually Cordy says “whatever” when she’s face-to-face with an angry vampire. I also love that she terrifies a vampire so much that he runs away. Never mess with a sassy teenager.
FINAL SCORE: 7.5/10
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