Today we explore the third season of Buffy. It's a year that found huge growth for the slayer. She and Angel eventually broke up, she graduated high school, got a new Watcher, and also encountered a reflection of her dark side with Faith Lehane, another slayer called after Kendra's death. So how did this season fare when compared to previous seasons on the feminist scale?
Season three may be the only season that rivals the Angelus arc for supremacy. It’s a tight, well done arc that really tries to connect most of the episodes to the mayor and his nefarious plot to ascend to pure demon status as well as to Faith’s fall into darkness. Much has been made about Faith serving as the Dark Mirror or Shadow Self to Buffy. If Kendra is what Buffy could have become with years of training as a potential---rigid, by the book, uncreative---then Faith is what Buffy could become if she fully embraces her darkest nature.
Faith says what Buffy is thinking deep down and expresses to the audience a lot of things about slayer nature that clearly Buffy has kept secret even from her friends. Most notably, Faith in “Faith, Hope, and Trick” blurts out in front of the Scoobies “Isn't it crazy how slaying just always makes you hungry and horny?” something Buffy tries to shrug off. Of course, Faith goes deeper than that and works harder to tempt Buffy. In “Bad Girls,” Buffy starts to emulate Faith’s style and even considers that slayers are better than others based on their strength and being “chosen” and indulges in Faith’s mantra of “Want, take, have,” stealing crossbows from a sporting goods store that they break into.
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This ride takes a dark turn and illustrates that Faith’s wild, entitled nature is what a slayer should avoid becoming. Things fall into entropy when Faith accidentally kills the deputy mayor and starts a life on the run, quickly becoming the mayor’s right hand assassin and errand girl. In some ways, one can see Faith’s inherent weakness. Despite her tough demeanor, she seeks to belong to someone, as Buffy has her Scooby gang and mother. In the mayor she finds a father figure and embraces him fully, sort of like an evil Giles.
While Buffy gains strength and derives her long-lived success from not being a solo slayer, when the time calls for it, she can also stand on her own and rely on herself (see “Becoming, Part 2”). Faith craves the attention of family, whether in Gwendolyn Post who tricked her or Mayor Wilkins who lured her to the Dark Side, so to speak.
I’m not saying that feminism is about being a lone wolf. I believe some of the strength that its ideology provides comes from not only interacting and having discourse with others but in fighting for others. However, Faith shows her weakness throughout the season, which contrasts heavily with Buffy’s own strengths.
The season ends with several big events. First, Joyce encourages (quasi-threatens) Angel to leave town for Buffy’s own benefit so that she can try dating humans and have a normal life. By “Prom,” he and Buffy are no longer a couple and she has to deal through this season and into season four with the loss of her lover. Second, graduation day approaches and it is more than just the ascension of the mayor. She, like the rest of the Scoobies, has to face moving onto a bigger world. In Buffy’s case, she has to contend with the fact that although her SAT scores were higher than expected and her mother’s own wishes for her future, that she has to stay tied to UC-Sunnydale and to defending the Hellmouth; her options in life are limited by her calling.
“Graduation Day, Parts 1and 2” show the audience many aspects of Buffy’s strength. She is able to say goodbye to Angel. She figures out a way to defeat the mayor by coming out in a fashion to her classmates and asking them to form an army against Wilkins’s minions.
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But maybe most importantly are the two meetings between Buffy and Faith.
First she and Faith fight to, if not the death, then the potentially fatal injury (landing Faith in a long-term coma). Buffy comes to the battle dressed in black and with red leather pants, not usually something I’d note, but Faith does, commenting derisively that Buffy is “all dressed up in big sis’s clothes.” In this instance, Buffy has embraced a bit of Faith’s dark side because she is trying her best to wound the other slayer and provide Angel with her curative blood. The second meeting is in a dream via a psychic link between the slayers. In this case, they make a form of amends and Faith tells her how to defeat the mayor via human weakness. In a way, the sister slayers have reconciled…at least until season four.
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The important thing about this season is that Buffy grows up immensely, learning to let go (to an extent) of Angel as well as bracing herself to face the larger world of college beyond high school’s walls. Moreover, she shows us what a slayer actually is----not a killer, but someone who must adhere to certain societal rules to stay a hero. She stays a beacon against Faith’s darkness and abuse of power.