Case Number 02566

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON

Fox // 1999 // 1060 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Harold Gervais (Retired) // January 27th, 2003

The Charge

But whenever there was a problem or something creepy happened, you seemed to show up and stop it. Most of the people here have been saved by you, or helped by you at one time or another. We're proud to say that the Class of '99 has the lowest mortality rate of any graduating class in Sunnydale history. And we know at least part of that is because of you. So the senior class offers its thanks, and gives you, this. It's from all of us and it has written here: Buffy Summers -- Class Protector.

Opening Statement

If you hang around Buffy-related message boards long enough, you will find a thread dealing with which of the show's six completed seasons is the strongest. Not to keep anybody in suspense, but with this third season box set, Fox is delivering the consensus favorite. In regard to its DVD presentation, is the third time the charm from FOX or is this another mixed bag?

Facts of the Case

Anne
Buffy: "Hey Ken, want to see my impression of Gandhi?"
Lily: "Ghandi?"
Buffy: "Well, you know, if he was pissed off."

Following the events at the end of last season, Buffy has left Sunnydale and moved to the big city. Wanting nothing more than to be left alone, trouble comes in the form of a young girl who Buffy once saved. Before you can say "Up With People," Buffy finds herself battling demons in a Hell Dimension. Back on the Hellmouth, slaying continues as the Scoobs try and keep pace with Sunnydale's ever-growing vampire population.

Dead Man's Party
Buffy: "You know, I love art talk as much as the next very dull person, but we have work to do. Giles. Research mode."

Buffy has returned home and finds its easier to slay demons than to mend the fences with her mom and friends. On the lighter side, Joyce has taken to collecting Nigerian masks that raise the dead.

Faith, Hope & Trick
Faith: "Isn't it crazy how slayin' just always makes you hungry and horny?"
Buffy: "Well, sometimes I crave a low fat yogurt afterwards."

There is a new Slayer in town, and she brought company.

Beauty & the Beasts
Xander: "We're doing crime here. You don't sneak up during crime."

What has a Slayer got to do to get rid of a boyfriend? There are mysterious attacks going on around Sunnydale and the prime suspects are Oz and a feral Angel.

Homecoming
Mr. Trick: "Ladies, gentlemen, spiny-headed looking creatures, welcome to SlayerFest '98!"

Pick your battle -- Buffy and Faith versus a bunch of would-be vampire slayers, or Buffy versus Cordelia in a battle for Homecoming Queen.

Band Candy
Mayor Wilkins: "I made certain deals to get where I am today. This demon requires tribute. You see, that's what separates me from other politicians, Mr. Trick. I keep my campaign promises."

Chocolate bars make adults say and do the darndest things. Especially on the Hellmouth.

Revelations
Giles: "She was kicked out by the Watchers Council a couple of years ago for misuses of dark power. They swear there was a memo."

Faith gets a Watcher and the Scoobs discover the secret Buffy has been hiding from them. Oh, Buffy and Faith get into their first fight. Meow.

Lover's Walk
Spike: "Oh, sod the spell. Your friends are at the factory. I'm really glad I came here, you know? I've been all wrongheaded about this...weeping, crawling, blaming everybody else. I want Dru back. I've just got to be the man I was. The man she loved. I'm going to do what I should have done in the first place. I'll find her, wherever she is, tie her up, torture her until she likes me again. Love's a funny thing."

Love's bitch, William the Bloody, is back in Sunnydale and he's got Willow held captive so she can whip up some love mojo. Xander gets caught with his hand in the cookie jar and Cordelia gets spiked.

The Wish
The Master: "I've lost my appetite for this one. She keeps looking at me. I'm trying to eat and she looks at me!"

The Master walks the Earth, Willow and Xander are vampires, Giles and Oz lead the human resistance, Angel makes a docile pet, and Buffy never made it to Sunnydale. What kind of bizarro universe is this? Stand up and meet the Hellmouth's newest resident, a vengeance demon named Anyanka.

Amends
Jenny: "I'm not a demon, little girl. I am something you can't even conceive. The first evil. Beyond sin. Beyond death. I am the thing that darkness fears. You'll never see me but I am everywhere. Every being, every thought, every drop of hate."

How did Angel escape his Hell dimension and where did his Irish accent go? One of those questions gets answered here along with the origin for Season Seven's Big Bad.

Gingerbread
Snyder: "This is a glorious day for principals everywhere. No pathetic whining about student's rights. Just a long row of lockers and a man with a key."

If most legends are loosely based on facts, what about fairy tale characters? Snyder gets to glare, Joyce takes charge, Amy discovers a taste for cheese, and Buffy and Willow try not to get burned.

Helpless
Cordelia: "If the world doesn't end, I'm gonna need a note."

There is a rite of passage every Slayer who lives to see their 18th birthday must pass...and it does not involve cake.

The Zeppo
Buffy: Willow, you okay?
Willow: "Yeah, I'm fine. The shaking is a side effect of the fear."

This season's Xander-centric episode finds the dateless one playing wheel man for a bunch of deadbeat vandals, while at the library the Hellmouth has once more been breached.

Bad Girls
Buffy: "Look, I know the new guy's a dork but...well, I have nothing to follow that. He's pretty much just a dork."

Watch out...there is a new Watcher in town, and this episode proves that some demons would do well to spend some quality time with Tony Little.

Consequences
Willow: "Oh, Buffy. Don't cry. I'm sorry. I was too hard on you. Sometimes I unleash. I don't know my own strength. It's bad. I'm bad. I'm a bad, bad, bad person."

Note to self: Self, don't trust crazy Slayers, and wooden stakes through heart can permanently hurt the chance for career advancement.

Doppelgangland
Willow: "It's horrible. That's me as a vampire? I'm so evil and skanky. And I think I'm kind of gay."

Anya's back, and she's flunking math. Oh, and Willow's evil vampire twin looks really hot in leather.

Enemies
Mayor Wilkins: "Well, scheduling a man of your talents is quite the chore, I'll tell you. Between the chanting and the sacrifice, my golf game is shot."

The Mayor wants more help, so he recruits a new ally, Angelus. Am I the only one who thinks a Bondage Buffy doll would be really hot?

Earshot
Willow: "The school paper is edging on depressing lately. Have you guys noticed that?"
Oz: "I don't know. I always go straight to the obits."

Buffy is infected with demon's blood, which causes her to hear the thoughts of everyone around her.

Choices
Wilkins: "Well, this is exciting, isn't it? Clandestine meetings by dark of night, exchange of prisoners. I just, I...I feel like we should all be wearing trench coats."

A mission to learn more of the Mayor's plans ends up screwing the pooch as Willow is taken captive. Also, Principal Synder thinks are drugs are bad.

The Prom
Anya: "Look, I know you find me attractive. I've seen you looking at my breasts."
Xander: "Nothing personal, but when a guy does that, it just means his eyes are open."

Hellhounds are on the loose, Buffy gets a prize, and Angel decides he needs a change of scenery.

Graduation Day: Part One
Mayor Wilkins: "My God, what a feeling. The power of these creatures. It suffuses my being. I can feel the changes beginning. My organs are shifting, merging, making me ready for the Ascension. Plus these babies are high in fiber, and what's the fun of becoming an immortal demon if you're not regular, am I right?"

Angel almost gets it in the heart, and finds out if the wood doesn't dust him, then the mystical poison will. Also, Buffy and Faith kick the living crap out of one another.

Graduation Day: Part Two
Oz: "Guys, take a moment to deal with this. We survived."
Buffy: "It was a hell of a battle"
Oz: "Not the battle. High school. We're taking a moment...and we're done."

It's the kids of Sunnydale in a battle to the death against da Man.

The Evidence

One of the cooler things about working through Buffy the Vampire Slayer season by season is seeing how actions from previous years affect the show in its present incarnation. It doesn't take long to realize that no year of the show's run resonates with greater force on current events than does season three. Considered by many hardcore Buffy fans as the pinnacle of the show's creative success, season three finds Buffy starting to grow up and starting to come into her own, both as the Chosen One and as a young woman. It's the season that gave us our first hint as to where Willow Rosenberg would grow as a character and the strange place that a vampire named Spike would one day occupy in Buffy's life. It's the year where Xander began to understand what his role would be in a world filled with slayers, witches, watchers, and vampires. It's the time when characters would fulfill their potential and move out and away from Sunnydale to life in the big city, and it's the season where Buffy's most powerful foe would make its first appearance.

Season three would find Buffy the Vampire Slayer becoming the darling of many national critics while being anointed the signature program for the WB television network. Coming into its own as a series in season two, Buffy began to show that creator Joss Whedon and his crew of writers were starting to think and operate on a grander scale. Right off the bat, this prestige is evident in the way the show looked. Shot for its first two years on 16mm, season three found 35mm film in the camera, and the results are night and day. The show went from a muted visual palette of somewhat limited scope to images that had greater brightness and more gray filled darkness. The show instantly feels bigger, richer, and more cinematic.

Granted, with that greater scope, a certain amount of the raw emotion that was present in season two slips, away but in its place we find a greater forward momentum to the storytelling. In fact, once the pieces for the season are in place, the show turns into quite the runaway train. It's exciting to watch, if for no other reason than one never knows what is to come next. It's as if Whedon saw the show gaining in popularity, and that knowledge emboldened him and his writers to push the show harder and in unexpected directions. Survival of the series was achieved, and now the long term had to be considered. So as the show grew, it was clear that the characters needed to mature, to move beyond the status quo of Sunnydale High School -- everyone needed to graduate.

This moving beyond what is safe to a new and scary unknown that has been one of the strongest aspects of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Relationships change, love and hope are often a four letter words, while alliances are forged and reneged on. Buffy has always had the remarkable ability to twist the viewer's heart while at the same moment bringing forth a laugh. It is this ever changing reality for its characters that makes me conclude Buffy is the closest television has ever come to presenting a live-action superhero comic book. It's pure soap opera in the best sense of the term. Few shows in television history have featured such complete and well-rounded players, with each character having a distinct voice all their own. It's because Whedon and Co. have stayed faithful to these voices that the show seems to be able to go anywhere it wants to, from broad comedy to pure melodrama, all the while staying grounded in its unique world.

If there is honesty in the writing, there also must be change to help keep the show fresh and to give the regular characters new things with which to react. So with season three, Whedon brought us something a little old and something new.

Not to get too off topic here, but there is much debate on the various Buffy boards about slayers and about who the true Chosen One really is. At the end of the first season, Buffy briefly died at the hands of The Master, and like any good comic book character, was quickly reborn. It was in these moments where she was "dead" that a new Slayer was called. In the second season, we were introduced to Buffy's replacement, Kendra. I suppose Kendra the Vampire Slayer just didn't have the same whimsical ring, so she was dispatched later on that year. Which brings us to the newest Slayer, Faith (Eliza Dushku, True Lies). Called into service after the death of Kendra, Faith roared into town with the force of a hurricane, and her presence would force Buffy to assess who she was as a person and what it meant to be the Slayer. Virtually the entire season would be spent in one fashion or another as an homage to Stan Lee -- with great power comes great responsibility. It is Faith who would push Buffy into unchartered territory. It is Faith who will give Buffy hope that there can be a life beyond slaying, and it is Faith who will shatter that dream. If, as a character, Faith is able to show Buffy what it means to be The Slayer, she also provided the show with a dramatic counterbalance to the good slayer who does what she is supposed to. Her experiences with Faith allow Buffy to realize she has outgrown the Watcher's Council and their many rules.

If Faith is the opposite side of the Slayer coin, then the introduction of the season three's Big Bad, Mayor Richard Wilkins III (Harry Groener, About Schmidt), serves as a counter father figure to Rupert Giles. All smiles and homey responses to go with the icy determination of his goals, Wilkins is like the bastard child of Andy Taylor and Hannibal Lecter. As the season moves forward and an alliance is formed between Faith and Wilkins, it becomes apparent that Wilkins deeply loves this second slayer as a father loves a daughter. There are moments between Groener and Dushku that possess a tender beauty, which supports the view that psychopathic killers and invincible demons need love just like anyone else. Wilkins also serves the show on a deeper level than your common bad-man-who-wants-to-become-a-pure-demon. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a show that has always had a subversive streak to it. It's always played the kids versus the stuffy English guy, the Nazi-like principal, and so forth, so what could be more natural than having the kids fight the government? Both Groener and Dushku are excellent and both leave their mark in a long line of interesting characters.

If all season three had done was bring Faith and Wilkins into the mix, then one could say a lot was done, but Whedon and Co. were not finished playing with things. The group's final year of high school also brought into the fold Anyanka, or Anya (Emma Caulfield, Darkness Falls), once and future vengeance demon and main squeeze of Xander Harris; Wesley Wyndam-Price (Alexis Denisof, Angel), Buffy's stuffier second Watcher; and finally, Whedon put a face on The Watcher's Council in the form of Harris Yulin (Looking For Richard), as Quentin Travers. Add in the increased involvement by Seth Green as Willow's werewolf boyfriend Oz, and you've got a fairly large cast with lots of possibilities. It's to the writing staff's credit that the show never feels crowded or rushed. It's always clear who the star of the show is, but everyone gets their moments to shine.

So series good, what about its DVD presentation? Better than the previous two sets, I'm happy to report. First off, the change to 35mm brings with it a much better looking picture. Colors are sharper and black levels are thankfully much improved. Flesh tones don't have that pasty look, while edge enhancement is held well in check. The source materials also look to be in better shape with few noticeable nicks or instances of dirt. It's nice to finally say that my DVDs of Buffy look better than my old VHS copies. The aspect ratio is still 1.33:1, and Whedon has said that he sees Buffy as a traditional TV series that fills up the 4x3 screen. So it will be interesting to see if we get anamorphic widescreen transfers for season four.

Sound is an unremarkable 2.0 Dolby Surround and it comes in three flavors: English, French, and Spanish. I'd really love to hear Buffy remixed in 5.1, but it just doesn't look like its going to happen. As it is, everything is perfectly serviceable but it lacks the tightness and flair of most modern mixes. Dialogue is key in the Buffy universe and everything is clearly heard and easily understandable. Surround effects are limited, as is bass. It's clean sounding with no real background distortions. Again, good but not special.

Maybe I'm just getting pickier, but the longer I do this the harder I am to please. It looks like there are more or less the same amount of special features included with season three with one major subtraction. Spread out over the set's six discs, there are four commentary tracks, six featurettes (that appear to have been made for this DVD set), and three interview pieces with creator Joss Whedon that would appear to have been made for the VHS releases. Of the group, it's the featurettes on Buffy-speak, the season three overview, and the two sections on special effects and make-up that hold the most interest. The commentaries are all pretty average, with the one by writer Jane Espenson being the real loser. Four commentaries and none by Joss Whedon? What gives? That single omission was the biggest letdown of the set for me, not only because of the information he could have provided, but also because he is one of the best commentary speakers I've heard. It's really a pity, and I hope he sits down with the microphone a lot more before we finish up with season seven.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

No matter how hard creators try, it's next to impossible to produce a home run every week. Still, it is another example of how strong the writing was getting that instead of the strikeouts from season one or the pop-outs of season two, the dogs in season three were at the very worst singles or sacrifice flies. When you have a body of work that features episodes such as "Amends," "Bad Girls," "Doppelgangland," "The Wish," "Lover's Walk," "Earshot," "Graduation Day," and "Helpless," it's easy to forgive the odd "Dead Man's Party" or "Gingerbread." [Editor's Note: Harold, you dare question the quality of an episode named after an Oingo Boingo song? You and me are gonna have words!] It's also a testament to how good this season was to realize that with most other shows, these installments would be upper tier episodes.

Closing Statement

If I could have one wish in regard to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it would be that people who avoid the show or put it down would take a chance and move beyond the show's title to see it for the amazing thing it really is. There really has been nothing like it before and I doubt we will see its like again any time soon.

I know it sounds funny to say that a series about superheroes, vampires, demons, and witches has more to do with real life than such series as NYPD Blue, Law & Order, or ER, but it is the truth. Buffy is able to speak to us because, beneath all the fantastic stuff on the surface, its writing and acting is true and its emotions are honest.

The Verdict

I don't know that there can be any verdict other than not guilty. Great writing, great direction, and great acting equals a great show. While things could still be better from the DVD perspective, it is a step forward. Case dismissed.

Review content copyright © 2003 Harold Gervais; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 89
Audio: 83
Extras: 82
Acting: 96
Story: 98
Judgment: 95

Perp Profile
Studio: Fox
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)

Subtitles:
* English
* Spanish

Running Time: 1060 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Original Scripts: "Faith, Hope & Trick," "Band Candy," "Lover's Walk," "The Wish"
* Production Featurettes: Season Three Overview, Buffy Speak, Wardrobe, Weapons, Special Effects, Monster Maker John Vulich
* Stills Gallery
* Commentary for "Helpless" by Writer David Fury
* Commentary for "Bad Girls" by Writer Douglas Petrie
* Commentary for "Consequences" by Director Michael Gershman
* Commentary for "Earshot" by Writer Jane Espenson
* Interviews with Joss Whedon

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0118276/combined

* Official Site
http://www.upn.com/shows/buffy/

* The Buffy Cross and Stake
http://www.angelicslayer.com/tbcs/main.html

* BuffyGuide.com
http://www.buffyguide.com/