There are definite indications that fatigue is closing in as the series reaches its finale. A strange mood shrouds the first two thirds of the episode: the performances are unusually stilted; the dialogue is peppered with woefully poor lines, and all the show’s rhythms seem adrift.
If this was an effort to create an ominous tone, in order to build tension, it isn’t terribly successful. It takes an inordinate amount of time before the gears click into place: the pace only begins to pick up as the climactic showdown between Buffy and Faith begins.
Although the individual pieces never quite seem to fit together, Graduation Day - Part 1 provides some very memorable scenes to relish:
Faith’s chilling cold-blooded murder of Professor Worth is an event that would have been almost inconceivable a few episodes ago; "evil girl" Anya’s romantic scene with Xander (“When I think that something could happen to you it feels bad inside, like I might vomit”) is very funny, and demonstrates the character’s potential.
There’s a commendable atmosphere of genuine menace during the scene where the mayor ("call me Richard") visits the library. The funniest moment in the episode, though, is the scene in the library, when Giles and Xander unfold the illustration of Olvikan.
Graduation Day - Part 1 seems half-hearted. For all its hints of what the Ascension might entail, we know that it’s eventually going to be something that the show is going to have to achieve with a TV-show size budget.
The episode ends on a note that demonstrates the lack of energy present: Buffy knows that she needs the blood of a Slayer to cure Angel. She’s tracked Faith down, has mortally wounded her in a bruising confrontation, and yet she watches, apparently helpless, as Faith quietly escapes on the back of a lorry…