Episode Title: The Prom
Original Air Date: May 11, 1999
“Once again, the Hellmouth puts the “special” in “special occasion”.” – Oz
So with the season finale just around the corner it of course makes perfect sense to have a monster of the week episode. For while Buffy and the Scoobies are busy making plans for prom, it would seem that someone else has their own prom plans for a bunch of hellhounds.
Okay so perhaps it’s not just another straightforward episode as the threat of being mauled by hellhounds is more of a secondary plot here as the writers attempt to tie up loose plot threads in the run up to the Sunnydale High prom.
The main one plots of course being the strained relationship between Buffy and Angel for while they might be back together by all appearances its clear that Angel is struggling to deal with their situation not only because of the risk of him losing his soul again but also because he feels that he is holding her back a thought further enforced by a surprise visit by Joyce who shares Angels concern for her daughter. In one of the more surreal scenes though we get to see Buffy and Angel getting married only for her to burst into flames when she comes into contact with sunlight, it’s also the dream which cements his decision to leave Sunnydale and in the process setting up his spin-off. The wedding dream sequence is one of those iconic scenes which promotional shots were released for ahead of the episode and spawned various fan theories, but even knowing the truth about this scene it’s still pretty iconic seeing how it’s essentially the closest they will come to getting married as their circumstances are seemingly eternally plotted to keep them apart. Seemingly Sarah Michelle Gellar was so upset over the scenes in which Angel and Buffy break up that the set had to be closed down for half an hour while she composed herself.
On a lighter note this episode also marks the start of one of Xander and former vengeance demon Anya’s relationship which would go on to be one of the best relationships on the show. Of course here it was impossible to see how their relationship would grow as it starts with Anya asking Xander to prom, having found herself having to deal with her newly gained teenage emotions which came with her losing her powers and becoming mortal. Here though they play things like a badly matched prom date as Xander is constantly traumatised by Anya’s tales of her time as a vengeance demon which she gleefully recounts in gory detail. This episode also sees Xander and Cordelia finally managing to make up after weeks of sniping and trading barbs with each other and while it’s amusing to watch it clear how much he still care for her when he discovers her fall from grace as the result of her father’s tax fraud which has left her broke and forced to work in a dress shop. The subtly of their truce with him secretly buying her prom dress is a lot more effective than if we had another drawn out monologue and in doing so it keeps the poignancy of Angel and Buffy’s break up from being overshadowed.
So what about these hellhounds you ask? Well obviously a pack of Hellhounds running around Sunnydale is bad enough and only made the worse when they have been trained to target those dressed for the prom, thanks to Tucker Wells training by forcing them to watch Carrie, Pump Up The Volume, Pretty in Pink and Prom Night and its sequel Prom Night IV: Deliver Us From Evil. I mean you know he’s truly evil because he’s making them watch “Pretty in Pink”! Surprisingly Tucker survives this episode and was set to become the leader of “The Trio” in season six. However when Brad Kane was unavailable to reprise the role, the writers gave him a brother called Andrew whose involvement with “The Trio” was supposedly inspired by his brother’s antics in this episode.
The Hellhounds meanwhile are a great piece of practical effects and while perhaps not the most troublesome opponent that Buffy has had to face atleast are made out to be a credible threat by having one of them tear open one unfortunate who just happened to be shopping for his tux. Amusingly he seems completely oblivious to the Hellhound jumping through the window and practically walks into the creature in perhaps an unintentionally funny moment.
The real centrepiece of this episode and unsurprisingly one of the key moments of the episode is the Prom itself which while it has hints of the usual Smoltz and cliché moments that these TV proms are packed with its also one of the rare moments when we see the group completely at piece and getting to generally be normal high schoolers. The real golden moment though of this scene and arguably one of the top Buffy moments ever is when Buffy is surprisingly awarded “Class Protector” and given a sparkly gold umbrella as a reward and fittingly presented by Warren who she’s probably saved more times than anyone including from himself as we saw in the previous episode. I especially love that the announcement for this award not only mentions that their class has the lowest morality rate ever (god knows what the previous years percentage was) highlights how aware of the weird events in Sunnydale the student of Sunnydale high are, especially when everyone seems to constantly have selective amnesia when it comes to these events. It’s also during this presentation that it becomes clear just how aware they are also aware of what she has been doing to save them even if it’s never been acknowledged throughout these three seasons.
While perhaps not the most action packed episode it brings many open plotlines to a satisfying conclusion and leaving the way clear to the final showdown with the mayor as we move into the two part finale.
Next Episode: Graduation Day Parts 1 + 2