Buffy returns from the big city to find her friends have been battling the forces of evil without her. As she struggles to regain her mother’s and her friends’ trust, a new slayer named Faith arrives in town, quickly winning over all of Buffy’s friends. But Faith’s arrival is just the beginning of new forces Buffy must face, for a few nights later she encounters Angel, who has somehow returned, feral and violent from the hellish demon dimension where Buffy had sent him. But the real demon Buffy must ultimately face is already on this side of the portal, preparing a special graduation day surprise for Sunnydale High.
Buffy returns to Sunnydale after trying to begin a new life in Los Angeles for a few months, leaving her friends to fend for themselves in the still dangerous town. Just when she begins to accept Angel’s departure, he returns from a hell after being tortured for probably centuries. The unseen mayor of Sunnydale proves to be a bad guy; indeed, mayor Richard Wilkins emerges as the major villain in the third season.
The story is complicated by the arrival of another Slayer, Faith, who had been called after Kendra was killed. Faith is an unstable, leather-clad bad-girl who had an unhappy childhood. She takes pleasure in violence and enjoys one-night stands afterwards. After accidentally killing a human being, she turns rogue and joins the evil mayor, who had built the town of Sunnydale “for demons to feed on” over a century ago. He plans to ascend into pure demon form on graduation day, becoming much larger and more destructive than the demons Buffy is used to facing.
Wesley Wyndam-Pryce appeared as a Watcher to replace Giles, who had failed the traditional Cruciamentum test. Though Wesley was generally inept and played mostly as a comic fop, he develops into a more heroic figure as a regular on the spin-off series Angel. Jonathan, who would become a major player later in the series, also reappeared while vengeance demon Anyanka, who would later become a series regular, loses her power and becomes a mortal in Sunnydale.
The season ends with Buffy having to stab Faith, putting her in a permanent coma. The Mayor ascends, but the gang blows up the school with him in it. Knowing that he has no future with Buffy, Angel leaves Sunnydale for Los Angeles and his own spin-off. Though no mention was made of it at the time, regular character Cordelia Chase made the same move.
The main antagonists of this season were Richard Wilkins and Faith Lehane.
In order of character appearances:
- Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy Summers (22/22)
- Nicholas Brendon as Xander Harris (22/22)
- Alyson Hannigan as Willow Rosenberg (22/22)
- Charisma Carpenter as Cordelia Chase (22/22)
- David Boreanaz as Angel (22/22)
- Anthony Stewart Head as Rupert Giles (22/22)
- Seth Green as Oz (21/22) (Does not appear in "Consequences")
In order of character appearances:
- Kristine Sutherland as Joyce Summers (16/22)
- Eliza Dushku as Faith Lehane (13/22)
- Harry Groener as Mayor Richard Wilkins (11/22)
- Alexis Denisof as Wesley Wyndam-Pryce (9/22)
- Armin Shimerman as Principal Snyder (8/22)
- Danny Strong as Jonathan Levinson (7/22)
- Emma Caulfield as Anya (5/22)
- Jason Hall as Devon MacLeish (5/22)
- K Todd Freeman as Mr. Trick (5/22)
- Larry Bagby III as Larry Blaisdell (4/22)
- Jack Plotnick as Allan Finch (4/22)
- Ethan Erickson as Percy West (4/22)
- Fab Filippo as Scott Hope (3/22)
- Mercedes McNab as Harmony Kendall (3/22)
- Saverio Guerra as Willy the Snitch (2/22)
- James Lurie as Mr. Miller (2/22)
- Tom Bellin as Dr. Gold (2/22)
- Julia Lee as Lily Houston/Chanterelle (1/22)
- Robin Sachs as Ethan Rayne (1/22)
- James Marsters as Spike (1/22)
- Mark Metcalf as The Master (1/22)
- Robia LaMorte as The First/Jenny Calendar (1/22)
- Elizabeth Anne Allen as Amy Madison (1/22)
- Harris Yulin as Quentin Travers (1/22)
- Andy Umberger as D'Hoffryn (1/22)
- This season debuted a new title card, with the most recognizable logo for the series.
- Despite Spike’s appearance in only one episode, he’s still featured on one of the discs in the Region 1 DVD set.
- This is the only season of Buffy in which Angel appears in every episode.
- This season features the most vampire deaths of the series.
- Joss Whedon has stated that, while season two “exceeded his expectations,” season three was “a struggle, because I was so happy with the year before. I was, like, ‘Can we do it again? Is the magic gone?’ Which is good, because you keep working really hard. Year two got so personal and strange and it got heavier than I expected it could have. We really got to go there emotionally, mostly because we had actors who could do anything, which is something we didn’t know when we started. But I would say a couple of things about third season. One, it proved that there was life after Romeo and Juliet. Our goal was to keep it fresh, which we did. And we got to explore Faith and the dark side of being a Slayer and calling that whole thing into question was really exciting and the point. And knowing that we had a countdown on high school stories when we’d only been in high school for two and a half years. There was discussion of whether we should be Saved by the Bell and they’re in high school forever, and the decision to have them graduate meant for the first time that we were going to get into some serious changes just in terms of the look and the feel. We also knew that Angel was going to be leaving. Knowing we had limited time to play up both high school and the Angel/Buffy romance sort of galvanized us and made us pull out all of our stops with what we could do.”
- ↑ Ed Gross, "Buffy The Vampire Slayer Turns 20: Joss Whedon Looks Back". Empire, March 09, 2017.