Now, looking back on BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER after seven utterly brilliant seasons, the magnitude of their achievement is still difficult to gauge. Every season managed to be unique and original, both making a host of connections with the seasons preceding it, as well as carrying it boldly towards new plot lines, new characters, and fresh crises. After the amazing second season of Buffy, with the heartbreaking story of Buffy and Angel's great love, it didn't seem possible that producer Joss Whedon and his crew could match their prior achievement. Was Season Three better than Season Two? Season Five better than either? Six as good as any of those? It really doesn't matter. What is amazing is that for seven years, they managed to produce the most consistently fascinating series that television has ever seen, completely redefining what it was possible for the medium to do.
Season Three opens with one of my all time favorite episodes of BUFFY, "Anne." Buffy, after the shattering events that close Season Two, flees Sunnydale for Los Angeles, where she gets a job as a waitress in a diner using her middle name, Anne. She has renounced her past, her name, her vocation as slayer, and her sense of purpose in life. By accident, she reluctantly agrees to help a girl, and ends up in a massive industrial plant run by demons and powered by human slave labor, with all the slaves reduced to identifying themselves as "No One." One of the truly triumphant moments comes when one of the demons, going down a line of fresh slaves and forcing each one to identify him or herself as "No One," arrives at Buffy, who up till this moment has rejected both her name and her vocation, and asks her who she is, to which she replies: "I'm Buffy, the Vampire Slayer." Simultaneously reembracing both her name and her vocation, she then proceeds to seriously smack demon butt in one of the best fight sequences in the entire run of the show.
The major plot lines of Season Three include the arrival of Faith, a somewhat rogue slayer who is Buffy's bad girl alter ego; the return of Angel from the demon dimension to which he had been sent at the end of Season Two; the attempt of the Mayor of Sunnydale to transform himself into a nearly invincible demon; Giles's termination as Buffy's watcher and the appointment of a new watcher, Wesley Wyndam-Pryce; and Buffy's ongoing struggle to find some kind equilibrium between her vocation as slayer and her desire to have a normal teenage life. At the end of the season, Angel, realizing his relationship with Buffy is an impossible one, leaves Sunnydale for Los Angeles, where he will accidentally be joined both by Cordelia (who will mature from bratty Queen Bitch of Sunnydale High School into a magnificent heroine in her own right) and the prissy Wesley, who will eventually gain in heroic stature himself. This illustrates the optimistic message of the Buffyverse: people can change and become more than they are. Clearly, in the Buffyverse, leopards can indeed change their spots, and people manage to do that with great regularity. Vampires and demons as well.
Season Three brings to an end the Scooby Gangs high school years. From this season forward, they will all be struggling with the kinds of issues that signal the passage to adulthood. In this the philosophy of the makers of the series is manifest: life is not a state, but a process. People constantly deal with new problems and new situations. People change. Joss Whedon has said that in creating Buffy he created a character we could care about. And we do. We love her and the rest of the Scooby Gang because they are not static, because they do change, because they constantly meet new challenges and difficulties, and not just monsters and vampires. We love them because they experience the same things we do.