By Rachel Orvino
January 17, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST

So you just sent your 243-year-old vampire boyfriend to hell, saved the world (yet again), got expelled from high school under suspicion of homicide, and ran away from home following a wicked fight with your mom. What’s a young woman to do next? Or a young cult TV series, for that matter?

As ”Buffy the Vampire Slayer” entered its third year, the hellish high school horror-drama struggled to keep the momentum of its powerful season 2 finale (in which Buffy stabbed her demon sweetheart, Angel), and added fresh blood with slayer Faith, watcher Wesley, and new villains Mr. Trick and Mayor Wilkins. Anemic episodes on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Third Season like ”Anne” (runaway Buffy turnes diner waitress) and ”Homecoming” (Buffy wants that crown) lack the show’s usual tongue-in-cheek spark — and the irritatingly brash antics of Eliza Dushku’s Faith typified the season’s early faltering. The show got back its full superhero strength, though, with ”Bad Girls”: Faith and Buffy go on a power trip that ends with the accidental killing of a human. Dushku finally does more than strut around in leather pants; coal-smudged eyes glowing, she brings equal parts pain and ferocity to her slayer-turned-evildoer. And Sarah Michelle Gellar adds her own emotional punches as she finishes school, graduating to a future without her great love.

But nothing compares to the tender heartbreak of ”The Prom,” in which Buffy’s classmates finally recognize her heroics. Although most of the DVD interviews with creator Joss Whedon amount to little more than glorifications of those syndication teasers on FX, bonus featurettes on costumes and weapons provide some fun background, not to mention a look at a frightening sickle-like throwing knife called a Hunga Munga. Or course, the biggest scare of all comes in ”The Wish”: a vision of Sunnydale without Buffy. Now THAT would bite.