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What is Buffy's arc this season ?

Cheese Slices

A Bidet of Evil
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I can't really pinpoint a single unifying thread that goes throughout the entire season.
Right now I've got :
  • Ep 1-4 : recovering from an abusive relationship and trauma
  • Ep 5 : being a normal girl
  • Ep 6 : growing up
  • Ep 7 : forbidden romance / hiding secrets
  • Ep 8 : forbidden romance
  • Ep 9 : friendship is magic
  • Ep 10 : ? it's not really about her ? She mentions her trauma but the episode doesn't really address it at all
  • Ep 11 : the ep pays lip service to the whole "if nothing we do matters, all that matters is what we do" shtick, which is a theme on Buffy, but is mostly a setup for Ats
  • Ep 12 : defying (malevolent) authority
  • Ep 13 : not her episode
  • Ep 14 : giving in to your dark side
  • Ep 15 : guilt ? (it's more about Faith anyway)
  • Ep 16 : not her episode
  • Ep 17, 18 : trust, jealousy
  • Ep 19, 20 : doomed romance, selflessness
  • Ep 21, 22 : defying authority

What would you say it THE main theme for her this season ?
 

Faded90

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Her guilt I think

I always headcanon this because I think the clothing and ‘we can’t do that we’ll get in trouble’ attitude she shows this season is way OOC for how Buffy usually is. Buffy is also never this ‘good girl’ ever again. I think she decides after getting a pasting in Dead Mans Party and told there’ll be consequences for her actions she is majorly guilted into being the ‘good girl’ which ties in to her being the good daughter, the good student who sticks in school and who doesn’t want to get in trouble. She follows orders this season, she trains with Giles. There’s multiple points when she tries and fails to keep up the facade like in Band Candy when she’s actually going to see Angel but she makes up an excuse with the others that will keep her good girl rep intact. She suppresses how much she enjoys fighting, even suppressing her sexual needs because of obvious ‘issues’ with Angel. This season is all about her trying to suppress the urges she has - sexual, her rebelliousness and the urge to tell people to do one 😂

Buffy throughout S1-2 and S4 onwards is MUCH closer to the Faith side of the scale than the Kendra side but she very much represses it because she’s blaming herself for what she believes to be recklessness in S2. I think in Bad Girls she kind of goes F it and starts acting and dressing more like herself again. I’ve never found Buffy OOC in this episode, it was a running thing innS1-2 that she skipped school all the time, she’s always had a very reckless edge - crikey she burned down a school building before we even met her ‘not actually ONE time’ either. She’s having fun, cutting loose and being who she is when she shuts her barriers and guilt down. Obviously then the Finch incident happens and she retreats even further into her comfy good girl facade, the outfit at the end of Bad Girls is just so over the top ridiculous for an 18 year old to wear on a normal day. I kind of see it as her putting on a costume. Note that she actually never dresses this ‘good girl’ again for the rest of the season because she kind of lets it go a bit after speaking with Faith in this scene

She’s a lot more forceful for the rest of the season and goes back to her own sarky attitude and being a bit more rebellious. She shuts Wes down at every opportunity, overrules him basically every single time and is not playing ‘good slayer’ for him. Then we have Joyce, unlike earlier in the season she doesn’t majorly pretend like she’s just going to go to college and be a normal college girl. Joyce all season worries Buffy will run away again, the season ends with Buffy actually telling HER to leave - for protection yes but it’s a sign she isn’t just going to be meek good daughter any more.

Then she fires the council, a total rebellion against the system and tells Wes he can’t be in the plan if he won’t step in line. Faith remarks her wearing ‘big sisters clothes’ obviously unless Buffy went shopping it’s still just clothes from her own wardrobe 😂 I see it as her dropping completely the good girl schtick and being who she really is ‘I’m not going to play nice girl’. She again wears a full leather outfit during graduation and takes her first step to being ‘the general’ let’s go of her guilt. Even after nearly killing Faith (which I’m convinced she regrets pretty much the instant the knife goes in) she isn’t going to be eaten up by the guilt, she shares a dream with her and acknowledges she still cares about her in the hospital No longer takes orders because she’s making them and is much more ‘herself’ by the end of the season and a sign she’s going to take more ownership of her own life rather than what others want her to do with it.

This may not actually be what they intended but it’s how I headcanon it because I find the ‘Buffy’s a good girl’ schtick this season way over the top. Particularly when she’s never been this good girl before and she isn’t after this either. She realises she can still be a good person but doesn’t need to play it, she can just BE it
 

Taake

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Black Thorn
For me the theme for Buffy's character this season is overcoming the isolating concept of being the "chosen one", to becoming a fledgling leader in a much more real sense than in the first two seasons.

In this season Buffy has more strife in her friendships than previously because she abandoned them (for understandable reasons) and they've had to do without her, she is still their leader, as before, but their dynamic has changed and this season shows how they're not as clearly "following" her as before. What I mean is that before she was the one with experience and power, she was the natural source of authority. But now her friends are starting to come into their own, and though they're not her, they have been managing on their own. The tensions are there throughout the season, basically before Buffy just was the leader, now she must earn being the leader. Also shown as Faith steps on the scene, someone who - based on power and skills - is an equal contender to being the leader of the group.

So for me most episodes are about Buffy questioning her role, ability, and identity as a girl and a Slayer and as the leader of the little group that has assembled around her. After the "me" moment of season 2, which is great, but is all about how Buffy in complete isolation still has herself and can defeat the bad guy, she must now learn to either be that chosen one, or to be a genuine leader who can share power.

This is a bumpy ride, as seen e.g. in her keeping Angel a secret, which does her no favors with friends and family and shows how much like Faith she can be, i.e. secretive, closed off, excluding others from important information or decisions. All of which she can do, as the chosen one, but it is the road to a pretty lonely path as it doesn't make for good relationships. Demonstrated by Faith.

Finally she shares the power more explicitly as she enlists the whole graduating class in the final battle.

So, on a thematic level for me the season is maturity, it is
a) about Buffy learning that she doesn't have to be alone in this journey she is on,
and b) graduating from high school and into "adulthood", maturing into a more level headed and responsible young woman and Slayer. (She is still a young girl, and still has a lot of journeying to do, but for me the transition from heroic self-sacrifice in s2, to collaborative power in s3, shows a different kind of maturity)
 

Spanky

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Black Thorn
I thought the third season really nailed many of the benchmarks for Campbell's hero's journey, with the finale, and the townsfolk joining being in symbolic of return to normality and her redemption.
 

thetopher

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Sineya
Buffy becomes 'her own' slayer.
She accepts that she is never going to be normal- during 'Homecoming' and embraces the duty of being the slayer, yet gets her perfect high school experience at the Prom anyway; she is acknowledged/celebrated for who she is ('class protector') and has a romantic slow dance with her boyfriend (soon to be ex).
Also, although she embraces her slayerness she doesn't take it 'too far' like Faith does. Buffy finds the balance by becoming independent from the Watcher's council and rallying her school against the patriarchal Mayor.
Meanwhile Faith doesn't choose to become independent and forge her own future, instead she sacrifices her autonomy completely so she can have a doting (and controlling father-figure) and not face her own actions.

Worth noting that Willow, Xander, Angel and Giles all make similar 'I'm gaining independence and deciding my own future' moments; Willow sacrifices academic opportunity to stay in Sunnydale and 'fight the good fight' because she wants to, not just for Buffy but for herself, Angel gets his own show (but also wants to find out why he was brought back from hell by higher powers that randomly make it snow...) Giles is fired as Watcher but now devotes himself to being Buffy's father figure, Xander finds his own worth, independent from his friends, in 'The Zeppo' and stays to fight during Graduation even when Anya says that he's basically useless, will die needlessly and he needs to come with her.

In terms of character arcs is pretty satisfying in terms of character development/growth for every notable character.
 

Athene

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The main theme for Buffy in season 3 is her acceptance of the darkness in her that comes from being the slayer I think, in season 1 she accepts her destiny as a slayer, in season 2 she's pushed into darkness by the Angelus thing, ending in her killing Angel but that emotionally destroys her. In season 3 she gets to grow from that and reconcile with that side of her identity, Buffy gets to do that in conjuction with Faith so anything about Faith is also in part about Buffy and vice versa.
 

garfan

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I don't think she skipped a lot of school in seasons 1 and 2. I'd say it's a coming in to her own thing, figuring out who she wants to be
 

Cohen

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Season 3 is very coming-of-age and accepting who she is, essentially ¨Becoming Buffy¨. Senior year is all about figuring out who you want to be, and I think that is the struggle she goes through the most. From the very first moment we saw her, where she was ¨Anne,¨ she has been struggling with this identity. This is emphasized by many of the episodes this season ¨Faith, Hope & Trick,¨ ¨Revelations,¨ ¨Homecoming,¨ ¨Amends,¨ ¨The Wish,¨ ¨Gingerbread,¨ ¨Helpless,¨ ¨Bad Girls/Consequences¨. Each of these episodes spotlights this struggle, in their own ways. The Wish even shows us what Buffy would be like if she fully gave into her Slayer duties. We never see/hear about Joyce in the alternate timeline but I truly wonder if Joyce may have died and that is what spurs her MaxSlayer identity. It is around ¨Choices¨ that she finally accepts her identity as the slayer, but also as Buffy, and she reconciles that she can be both. I, too, find it important that she sends Joyce away at the end of the season, fully accepting herself as an adult and leader.

In terms of character arcs is pretty satisfying in terms of character development/growth for every notable character.
I will say, Cordelia seemed to backpeddal after the Cander breakup. While it is reflective of breakups that she would only be in the peripheral of her ex, I think that her character arc was stunted because of this. And the weird Wesley arc was ridiculous and not comedic, which is what it seems to have been intended as.

I don't think she skipped a lot of school in seasons 1 and 2. I'd say it's a coming in to her own thing, figuring out who she wants to be
It is heavily implied she missed a lot of classes in seasons 1 and 2. The one teacher she ¨liked¨ did not remember who she was at the beginning of the season, due to her many missed classes.
 

thetopher

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Sineya
I will say, Cordelia seemed to backpeddal after the Cander breakup. While it is reflective of breakups that she would only be in the peripheral of her ex, I think that her character arc was stunted because of this.
True, Cordelia regresses, and its really only circumstances that force her to move on to a new life in LA. She has to break away from the group for this transition to work, so yes it feels regressive.
However, even cut off from Xander and the group she still ends up helping on occasion. I also see the Cordelia/Wesley relationship as progress of a sort for Cordelia; she's no longer as hormonally driven as she was with Xander. She kisses Wesley, it doesn't work so they both move on because it has no future. I see it as her learning from her previous failure and not making the same mistake.
And hey, at least Cor stakes a damn vamp, finally. :)

And now that I think about it I'm not sure Oz has any kind of coming-of-age arc, except maybe in his relationship with Willow.
 

Stake fodder

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I don't know if it has an overarching theme, but re-watching it, I noticed there was a lot about issues of control. Various situations spin out of control: the townspeople in Band Candy, The Wish, and Gingerbread; Faith in Bad Girls, Consequences, and her arc with the mayor; and Buffy's ability to read everyone's thoughts in Earshot. In a more minor way in Homecoming, she is trying to get the school to vote her in as Queen, using bribery as a method of control. Buffy finds herself constantly trying to restore order to chaos.

Buffy also tries to control the situation with Angel's return, but it gets away from her. And ultimately, she has to accept that she cannot prevent Angel making his own decisions about their relationship. (In sort of a mirror situation in Lover's Walk, Spike is seeking a method of controlling Drusilla.)

At other times, different people are trying to control Buffy: her mother and Giles in Band Candy; the Watchers' Council in Helpless and with the introduction of Wesley; the First via Angel in Amends; the Mayor in Consequences, Enemies, and Graduation Day, Part 1.

Finally, in Bad Girls, Buffy tries to let go and lose control, only to have it backfire.

So, I think it is a theme of growing up, as others have said. As adults, we have to navigate through a chaotic world over which we have only so much control. At the same time, adults have to learn to control their own behavior, and have the self-confidence to stand up for themselves to others. Buffy takes control of her life and decisions, and yet has to accept that she can only do her best to save the world, though her best is a lot. As The First said, it's about power... and its limitations.
 
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