If Graduation Day Part 2 had been the last ever episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, there wouldn’t have been too many fans who wouldn’t have gracefully admitted that at least the series ended with a suitably epic finale.
Of course, there was never any doubt that the series would continue, but there must have been some considerable pressure to at least acknowledge that the cast was almost three years older than they were when the series began, and that the series couldn’t maintain the status quo indefinitely.
Additionally, there was the imminent prospect of giving Angel his own spin-off series to deal with, so a few loose ends would have to be gathered together before the episode ended. Writer and director Joss Whedon has managed to juggle all these demands most adeptly.
Although the lasting impression is of an action-packed story, it’s interesting to note that we don’t even get to the Graduation Day arena until half way through the episode.
When the action does eventually begin it’s fast and furious, and on a most impressive scale. Whedon’s direction is faultless, although there are a few potentially important blink-and-you'll-miss-it moments that pass very quickly (Larry’s death and Harmony being bitten by a vampire, for example).
The most notable scene, however, is one that isn’t there: it’s to Whedon’s credit that he resisted the urge to include a drawn-out, tearful and gushy parting scene between Angel and Buffy. With Ascension Day upon them, there were more important things to focus on.
It’s time to make special note of the contributions made by two performers who take their final bow here. As Principal Snyder, an obvious casualty of the series’ move to a new venue, Armin Shimerman has been a delight in the all-too few episodes he appeared in.
Harry Groener’s character (mayor Richard Wilkins III) was erratically written, but Groener managed to maintain a steadily growing sense of menace throughout, and in this episode he finally steals the show.