Monday, July 13, 2009

Happy Tenniversary: "Graduation Day"

Ten years ago today, the final chapter of my favorite season of one of my favorite TV shows of all time was finally allowed to air.

TUESDAY, JULY 13, 1999

In the aftermath of Columbine in the spring of 1999, with popular (and mainly youth) culture under attack for "inspiring" the events in Littleton, CO, the television networks got as gun-shy as they'd ever been. (Or as they ever would be until Janet Jackson's Metal-Clad Tit of Doom and Depravity assaulted the collective American senses in 2004.) For whatever reason no more sophisticated than "because it's set in a high school," Buffy the Vampire slayer was targeted not once but twice. Which is kind of funny considering the then-WB series was watched by such a small sliver of the audience, and that if that tiny audience were to have been inspired to do anything, it would probably have been to start talking in hyper-literate Whedonese. Which, you know, they did.

But like I said, the networks were petrified of getting fingers pointed their way, so mid-season episode "Earshot" was pulled and wouldn't air 'til summer. Of course, "Earshot" was a largely standalone episode with minimal impact on the seasonlong plot arc. But when the May 25 season finale, "Graduation Day, Part 2," was pulled pretty much at the last possible second, fans were left hanging on a cliff for almost two months. It was one of those time-and-place moments that would have seemed inconceivable ten years later (that shit would have hit the internet seconds after it got yanked). Or with a more widely-watched show. That kind of thing happens to a Lost season finale and whatever network flunky flipped that switch loses a finger.

What made it even more maddening was that the rationale (such as it was) for pulling the episode -- it depicted scenes of the graduationg senior class taking up all variety of weapons in a coordinated attack on the local mayor, apparently hitting too close to home to the well-armed and organized Columbine assassins -- went and completely spoiled the big final-act reveal in the episode. (Setting aside, of course, the fact that these graduates were wielding these weapons in the face of a mayor who had morphed in to a three-story demonic serpent. But, you know.)

Alas, the Buffy audience was, as ever, happy for whatever Buffy they got, and by July 13th, the cultural landscape was deemed safe enough for "Graduation Day, Part 2" to air.

As for the episode itself? While it didn't, in my opinion, hold up to the level of Part 1, which featured, among other things, the greatest fight scene on TV ever, it was a strong end to a brilliant season. And that oh-so-controversial moment with the armed senior class was the best part, the culmination of three seasons worth of Buffy protecting her classmates, now finally standing side by side with her. Plus, you know, Harmony got killed, which would lead to her later, superior, vampening.

Anyway, check out the final act of the episode, try to fight the urge to shoot a harpoon into your own giant-snake/mayor, and enjoy some of the finest Joss Whedon ever had to offer.


Diana said...

Thanks for that. Wow.

The Vegetarian Virgin said...

Oh man. This made me cry. You worded it perfectly. Oh man I'm all nostalgic now! I can't believe it's been 10 years...