Graduation Day (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

"Graduation Day" is the season finale of the WB Television Network's third season of the drama television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, consisting of the twenty-first and twenty-second episodes. They were written and directed by series creator Joss Whedon. "Part 1" first aired on May 18, 1999 and "Part 2" first aired on July 13, 1999. The second part was to originally be aired on May 25, 1999, but was postponed due to the episode's content and the occurrence of the Columbine High School shootings one month prior.
The episodes are the last to feature David Boreanaz as a series regular due to his starring in the spin-off series Angel. Fellow series regular Charisma Carpenter, who had been with the show since its first episode, also left the series to star alongside Boreanaz.


Part 1

The episode opens with the gang preparing for their graduation: Cordelia and Xander discuss the color of their gowns, and Willow speaks to Buffy about all she'll miss about high school. Buffy is considering skipping graduation to fight Mayor Wilkins, until Xander joins them and informs the two that the Mayor's to be the commencement speaker at graduation. Faith visits college professor Lester Worth on behalf of the Mayor, and kills him. She reports the kill to the Mayor, who has Faith change into a dress and tells her the ascension is her day as well as his. In class, Anya speaks to Xander and, when he mentions the ascension, her expression becomes grave.
In the library, Buffy shows Giles and Wesley the newspaper which details the murder of Worth. Buffy suspects Faith to be the culprit and the three agree the professor must have known something the Mayor wanted kept secret. Xander and Anya arrive, Anya having experienced a previous ascension. She tells them about a sorcerer who became the pure-demon Lohesh - unlike human-demon hybrids like vampires, pure-demons are much stronger and much larger. The Mayor waltzes into the library and smugly comments that he'll eat Buffy come graduation day. Upon hearing this Giles, in a fit of rage, stabs him with a sword; but the Mayor is unharmed, and merely scolds Giles for his impetuous violence – a bad example in the presence of children. He leaves with the cheery promise that some of their deaths will be quick.
At home, Buffy packs a suitcase for Joyce and convinces her to leave town for safety. Willow vents her worries to Oz, and chides him for his detachment; panic would be a more normal human response. Oz interrupts her with a passionate kiss, and when Willow asks what he's doing, he replies that he is "panicking". The two finally consummate their relationship.
Buffy and Angel discuss Worth's work, which Buffy doesn't understand. The two discuss the confusing nature of their relationship, when Angel is struck in the back by an arrow fired by Faith, which misses his heart. At the library, the arrow is removed, and Giles and Wesley go over Mr. Worth's files, which indicate that Worth found a gigantic carcass underneath the rubble of a volcanic eruption, which he believed may have been a new type of dinosaur. The group assumes this must be some sort of demon, when Angel falls to the ground - the arrow has been poisoned with a toxin fatal to vampires. Faith reports her attack to the Mayor, and amuses him with a few stories from her childhood before he continues preparations for the ascension. Wesley tells Buffy the Watcher's Council refuses to help Angel because he is a vampire, but Willow's research reveals the poison has a cure - the blood of a Slayer.
Buffy arrives at Faith's apartment intent on getting her blood. Faith warns Buffy that she'll never take her alive and a battle to the death ensues, eventually ending up on the roof. Meanwhile, Giles and Xander find that the Mayor will transform into the demon Olvikan, and find an unseen picture of him in a book - the illustration is four pages long. The Mayor is also alerted to the trouble at Faith's place. On the edge of the roof, Buffy stabs Faith with the knife Faith had received as a birthday gift from the Mayor. Faith congratulates Buffy for killing her, punches her to the ground with a brutal back hand, then leaps off the roof onto a truck on the street below to escape, denying Buffy her blood. The fall knocks her out, and Buffy watches as the truck carries her away.

Part 2

Giles informs Cordelia that Buffy has quit the council and no longer requires a watcher. Buffy tells Angel that his only cure is the blood of a slayer and since he can not use Faith, he will have to use hers. Angel begs her to not make him drink, but succumbs after physical violence from Buffy, incapacitating her in the process. A Fully healed Angel rushes Buffy to the hospital for treatment, meanwhile in a nearby room Mayor Wilkins is standing over Faith, beaten and comatose being informed by the Doctor that she may never wake up. The Mayor attempts to suffocate Buffy, but he is stopped by Angel and leaves.
In a dream, Faith tells Buffy that "human weakness never goes away, even his". When Buffy wakes she approaches her friends, ready to go to war with the Mayor. In the library, Buffy finishes detailing a plan and the gang agree the plan is crazy, but is their only option. Angel remembers that the Mayor was seriously grieving over Faith. The Mayor and Buffy detail their respective plans to their allies, and Buffy's friends recruit other students to help. Wesley tells Cordelia that he will be returning to England following the ascension; they kiss.
Buffy and Angel talk over weapons, and Angel tells Buffy he will not be saying goodbye after the battle. A grief-stricken Buffy unwraps the knife she used to stab Faith, still stained with her blood. The graduation ceremony begins and Principal Snyder welcomes the students before the Mayor takes the podium. During his speech he starts to convulse, an eclipse turns the sky into night, and the Mayor transforms into Olvikan, a giant snake-like demon. At Buffy's command, the entire student body removes their robes to reveal weapons and crosses. They attack Olvikan with flames and arrows before Xander and Angel lead the students into battle against the Mayor's vampires, and in the chaos Olvikan devours Snyder.
Buffy catches Olvikan's attention with Faith's knife, describing in graphic detail how she stabbed her. The demon chases Buffy through the school to the library, which has been filled with explosives. Buffy dives out a window and Giles detonates the explosives, blowing up the school and killing Olvikan. Giles presents Buffy with her diploma, rescued from the debris. Buffy then sees Angel and they share a final, longing look at each other before Angel leaves. The gang, minus Giles, gathers and Oz tells them all to take a moment to deal with what happened, that they all survived. Buffy agrees that it was a great battle, but Oz corrects her by saying they survived high school. The scene fades on a charred yearbook for Sunnydale Class of 1999.


Reviews for the BBC said Part 1 lacked energy and the build-up to the Buffy-Faith confrontation was slow. It praised the humor and menace displayed in the library scenes. Part 2 was described as suitably epic for a season finale, preparing the ground for the Angel spin-off series and building to a fast-paced and large-scale climax. The final performances of Armin Shimerman as Principal Snyder, and Harry Groener as the Mayor, and throughout the season, were noted. Noel Murray of The A.V. Club said "Graduation Day" was a "wonderfully calibrated mix of life-lessons, dramatic moments, thrilling heroics and well-observed character interactions". He complimented the performance of Harry Groener.


During the time of its airing, the episode caused a great deal of controversy in the media. The Columbine High School massacre, which took place only four weeks before the airing of Part One, was widely blamed on violence in entertainment. The WB Television Network had already pulled the plug on an earlier episode, "Earshot", and feared that several scenes in "Graduation Day, Part Two" would provoke high school students to do the same thing, especially those depicting the entire graduating class handling weapons against the Mayor.
On May 25, 1999, only two hours before "Graduation Day, Part Two" was due to air, The WB suddenly decided to replace it with a re-run from earlier in the season, "Band Candy". This sudden move received huge attention in the media and thousands of letters were sent to the network demanding that the season finale be shown. Sarah Michelle Gellar publicly spoke out against the decision, Seth Green agreed that the episode should have been broadcast in its original slot. The WB did not air the episode until July 13, 1999, almost two months after it was originally scheduled; since nearly all US schools end their term in May or June, it was then felt safe. The episode attracted 6.5 million viewers, which is typically high for the WB during summer, and comparable to what the other episodes of the season had received.
As the episode was not delayed in Canada, many bootleg digital downloads were available.
Joss Whedon, the creator of the show, stated, "Bootleg the puppy."