Episode Title: Choices
Original Air Date: May 4, 1999
“Raise your hand if you’re invulnerable…” – Mayor Wilkins
So here we are on the final few episodes of the season and it’s this week that the various pieces are finally starting to be brought together and that we also get the first real showdown between the Scoobies and the Mayor as they learn about his plans to obtain the “Box of Gavrok” essential for his Ascension. Things however don’t go according to plan as while trying to obtain the artefact Willow ends up being captured by the Mayor and leaving the two groups heading towards an inevitable confrontation
At the same time “Choices” is an episode which finds many of the characters at a crossroad especially as they try to figure out which college they will be attending, something which is especially problematic for Buffy with her Slayer duties still requiring her to be in Sunnydale despite Buffy clearly seeing a life for herself away from the Hellmouth. Worse still her relationship which continues to be on shaky ground is made only the more unstable when she questions how their relationship will fare especially as she will continue to age unlike the immortal Angel. An issue especially made all the more raw by a cutting barb by the mayor during their standoff where he talks about his experience of being in the same situation with his own mortal partner.
The real genius of the episode is in how while it has the feeling that not a lot happens here, you soon discover when closer examined just how much is achieved by its simple setup. For example here we get the first hint of Cordelia’s fall from a privileged life as we see her working a retail job and an aspect of her character which really comes into play in the “Angel” spin off. The only person who doesn’t seem to have any idea were they are heading is Xander who baffling never really gets to say what his master plan for life after Sunnydale High involves though for us returning viewers we atleast know that it will work out for him in the end and arguably better than most of the other Scoobies.
What the episode really highlights though is the group’s dedication to battling the forces of evil with Willow using her brief time as the Mayor’s captive to come to this realisation. In particular it’s her desire to increase her magic abilities that cements her decision to stay in Sunnydale which lets face it is essentially the best place to learn such skills while at the same time attending UC Sunnydale with Buffy giving us an early hint at what season 4 will hold for her and the other Scoobies.
The mini heist action to get the “Box of Gavrok” is surprisingly easy for the group especially for something which has so much importance but on it, but at least we get to see Buffy playing around in a “Mission Impossible” style harness. Equally its kind of disappointing to find that the all-important box just contains a bunch of killer man-eating beetles whose purpose only reminding Buffy and the Scoobies that he’s invincible is kind of unclear.
While on the topic of the Mayor though this episode kind of confused his relationship with Faith, which in previous episodes had been shown as being more of a father / daughter one compared to the Master and Lackey that it comes across as here, even if he does give her the now iconic knife which she wastes little time in showing how handy she is with it like pretty much any weapon she can get her hands on. It’s unclear what’s changed between them, especially when Faith seems to still be moping over her failed attempt to seduce Angel, but nothing to mark such a radical change in tone for them.
Overall it’s a fun episode with the stand off at the finale between the two groups fittingly tense especially this close to the finale while the reappearance of Principal Snyder who on a drug hunt helps to keep the episode fun throughout, even if he comes off as more of a dick than usual when he stumbles into the standoff which again was surprising seeing how he’s connected to the Mayor that he wouldn’t know about the trade-off between the two groups and really only serves to reveal what exactly is in the box. Still with only two episodes in the season left it does a great job of putting things in motion for the finale.
Next Episode: The Prom