Prophecy Girl

Season One Finale, Episode Twelve

What is truth?

Prophecy Girl: The Review

Time waits for no man...

Prophecy Girl is the climax of the first season. The schemes of The Master, twice frustrated by the Slayer, long in maturing, finally dependent for their fruition on the fulfillment of a prophecy that involves the Anointed, are now complete and waiting only for the arrival of the appointed hour of their success.

Buffy, too, has had her plans frustrated, of course. The "normal" life that has continued to be her desire has continued to elude her. Her destiny and her fate are also prophesied, but it is her special gift to find the loopholes of fate. One peculiar advantage of Buffy's Slayerhood is her friends. They not only come to her assistance when she is out-numbered, but they keep her true to her calling. Rather than a distraction, they give a focus to, a motivation for, her vocation. Saving the world is an abstract idea, but saving Willow or Xander, as was saving Jesse in WttH, is a tangible benefit, a reason to put aside her own wishes and comply with destiny.

Change is good.

To a large degree, the episode is about the effect that Buffy has had upon those around her, Willow in particular, a strange turn for an episode centered on Buffy's confrontation with fatality. The viewers are encouraged to admire Willow's steadfastness in friendship, for she places a telephone call to Xander, which he ignores, her disappointment and resentment over his stupidity notwithstanding. It is Willow to whom Xander turns for support in courting of Buffy. It is Willow to whom Cordelia turns for help with the sound system for the dance at the Bronze. It is for Willow that Buffy acts when she overcomes her fear of death and The Master. Willow has become an important person, someone to whom Cordelia will deign to speak, of whom she will ask a favor, a epoch in itself. The scene in which Cordy asks that favor is reminiscent of Buffy's frank approach in WttH.

Cordy as the reclamation project, the makeover candidate, pays dividends in this episode. Cordelia is now more aware of her environment. The brief scene of Cordy and Kevin in the car, a standard horror film placement, has the effect of showing that she has become attuned to the dangerous world in which she lives. In the past, she would not have noticed. (It also establishes that it is her car: she is in the driver's seat, in fact.) Later, Cordy is shown to have discovered that she is capable of genuine affection for Kevin. She doesn't mind that he stood her up, as she thinks. She has become tolerant. Her response to his death is even more indicative of her greater capacity for human empathy: she mourns. Death is not merely an inconvenience, as it was in earlier episodes, but a terrible event. The clearest evidence of her advance comes in her rescue of Jenny and Willow in the parking lot and her drive to the Library. She rises above self-preservation, above the damage to her car, and puts her whole being into the service of a greater cause. Cordelia's approach to everything is direct and to the point, however, and she remains true to that nature, driving straight into the school and down the hall to the Library.

Xander's shilly-shallying over his affection for Buffy finally gets past the sticking point of courage. He is the typical guy who can't see the forest for the trees: he is oblivious to Willow's infatuation with him, having been her friend all his life, and blindly he can use her as his rehearsal partner for his supplications of Buffy. Buffy, the viewers already know, is still in love with Angel. Xander knows it. Willow knows it. Giles knows it, and he knows that Angel loves Buffy in return. ("A vampire in love with a Slayer. It's rather poetic. In a maudlin sort of way."—Out of Mind, Out of Sight) Even Buffy knows it. But Xander is in love, and who could blame him for overlooking the obvious? His treatment of Willow, however, is his real blind spot. He blindly treads all over her feelings. Buffy's rejection of his invitation to the dance as a first step to "something more" doesn't wake him up to reality. He then becomes a prize chump by asking Willow to be a stand-in for Buffy. Willow's chagrined reaction only deepens his self-pity, and he retreats into that great cliché, country music, to wallow. He redeems himself later, when he goads Angel into helping him to save Buffy, and the contrast between his insensitive, self-involved behavior and his selflessness is skillfully arranged. His actions and moods parallel those of Buffy, who traces a similar path from her depressed state of denial to the ultimate emergence of her better qualities.

Not least is the effect that Buffy has had upon Giles. In WttH, he was the businesslike Watcher, exhorting Buffy to do her duty and accept her fate, with the inevitable mortal result. In Prophecy Girl, he is constantly watching for a means to outwit destiny and even goes so far as to disdain his lore and her vocation, preparing to leave Buffy out of the final reckoning altogether. He has been too long away from the real world, merely a spectator. Buffy has reintroduced him to reality. He sees Buffy now as a girl, not only a Slayer, a person, not an expendable mystical weapon, easily replaced. He would rather die himself, rather risk The Master's freedom and a possible apocalypse, than send her to die. This reversal of values reveals much about Giles, as much as did his speech at the end of Never Kill a Boy on the First Date. Giles had been dutiful, had renounced his own aspirations, but his sacrifice was small compared to that that Buffy must make: he gave up the ordinary life, but she gives up life itself. He is older, and it is the adult's responsibility to protect the child. As always, Buffy finds it in herself to stand the convention on its head.

Angel has changed the least of all the characters. He has been in love with Buffy from the moment that he saw her outside Hemery High. He wanted to help her then, but didn't know how. Since Angel, he has been fighting the attraction, knowing that he can only make her life more difficult, yet he cannot stay away. Becoming involved with Buffy is painful and dangerous for him, but staying away from her could result in her death. He is trapped in the despondency of his curse. Ironically, it is Xander, the one of Buffy's friends who likes him least, who drags him out of his den to her aid.

Leave a good-looking corpse.

Buffy has nowhere to turn for comfort, which is what she wants most. She appeals to Joyce to take her somewhere, anywhere, but her mother has been excluded from her life to such an extent that she can only misunderstand Buffy's desperation. Joyce's gesture, the dress, is tragically symbolic: the normal life, its pains and pleasures, seemingly so important to the normal girl, are reduced to this dress, a pretty thing, but impractical and irrelevant. The undercurrent of the scene is the tragic lack of communication between mother and daughter. Joyce has no way to know how little time she might have with her daughter, and Buffy cannot bring herself to tell her. Perhaps, comes the thought, Joyce will bury Buffy in that dress. Joyce's story about meeting Hank, intended to cheer Buffy with the thought of serendipity, only reminds Buffy of the brevity of her own existence. The dress is her escape, as though the change of costume will somehow change the story. For a moment, Buffy escapes into the fantasy of normalcy, but then she is recalled to her reality by Willow.

Willow's trauma is the catalyst that crystallizes Buffy's resolve. The vampires have invaded the school, have taken possession of Willow's world. It might not be fair for the world to expect Buffy to die to save it, but it is even more unfair that Willow should have her world destroyed. Buffy is the Slayer, and Willow is not. It is difficult to die for an abstraction, but not to die for Willow. And, then, she might not die at all.

The episode gives a fair warning that the prophecy cannot be taken quite as literally as The Master would have it. Giles notes that most prophecies are tricky, that Buffy has confounded them in the past. That events in the Codex have always come to pass sounds dire, but then, inspired by Brother Luca's e-mail message from Cortona (an allusion to I, Robot—You, Jane), provided by Jennie, he hits upon the point that yields a ray of light: The Anointed. Borba (Never Kill a Boy...) was not the Anointed, but rather it is a little child. By the prophecy, the Slayer shall not know him, but now she does. Already the prophecy has been circumvented. Buffy announces this a couple of times, just to make sure that the viewers cannot complain that they have been misled.

The Master has arrived at his own interpretation of the prophecy, reached only recently, it seems. Previously, he had been only too willing for the Three or Darla to kill Buffy (Angel). Now, as he tells Buffy, it is the supreme irony that he could not have been set free unless she came to him. She was the instrument of Fate in his delivery from the Hellmouth. Her blood gives him the strength to escape. Thus, Buffy dies. The Master, being somewhat out of touch and very conservative, has not kept up with modern emergency medical techniques. If he had been a trifle less confident and a bit more attentive to the human culture that he despised, he might have been more thorough. But he discards Buffy, never considering that his understanding of prophecy might yet be defective, and leaves her to drown. His parting remark, "Oh, by the way, I like your dress," echoing Willow's earlier compliment, reflects the cruel disdain which leads him to miscalculate. It remains only for Xander and Angel to arrive, and for Xander to administer CPR to the clinically dead Buffy, for the prophecy to come true and apart. Technically dead, Buffy returns to life, stronger than ever. Buffy makes swift work of disposing of The Master and sealing the breach of the Hellmouth. Her taunts, however, seem to mask a fear that even the realization of his death cannot dispel. When Angel picks up the refrain of the episode and says that he likes her dress, the hollowness of the compliment and all that it represents rings in her reply: "Yeah, yeah. Big hit with everyone."

In Sum

The episode is true to the tenets of the show. It hits upon the essential points that were set out in WttH and The Harvest. Fate is powerful, not decisive, but rather character, personality, determines destiny. Education comes from reality, and reality comes from the individual and from social interaction. Authority is almost always wrong, or is to be doubted. Humanity is empathy. Wit is symptomatic of intellect, but intellect alone is barren. The Master possesses a demonic wit, an intellect that is inhumanly wanting empathy. Cordelia's wit has the same taint of cruelty, until she is changed by her contact with Buffy. Buffy's wit is penetrating, but it always has a tinge of irony, a self-mocking, rueful quality. She knows her situation to be ridiculous, and she is always gentle in her ribbing of her friends. The girl in the pretty dress saves the world. Life goes on. What does it mean? Only that life goes on.

Horace LaBadie

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