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(Meta) S8 Guide: Buffy the Bank Robber

16th March 2010 (16:08)

One of the most controversial plot arcs of Season 8 was the revelation that Buffy robbed a bank. So controversial, in fact, that even people who've never read the season still talk about it - although some of them may be hazy on the details of how and why she did it. That's where this meta comes in.

Simply put, what I plan to do here is re-tell the whole story of that particular plot arc, which spread over at least a year of storytelling, all in one place and with everything laid out clearly. I'm particularly aiming this at people who've not read S8, or gave up reading, but are still curious to find out what's been going on in a story which Joss Whedon considers to be the canonical continuation of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'. ;-) Of course, people who are reading the season might also find it of interest as a recap.

I'm trying to be fairly neutral here, and describe what happened rather than provoke a debate on whether or not it was a good or in-character plot development. Though debates have a tendency to happen anyway when it comes to controversial things, which is kind of the point.

If anyone is interested in a similar summary of one of the other season arcs, feel free to suggest it in the comments and I'll see what I can do. I don't, however, plan to write anything on the plotlines which are still ongoing, at least until after the season is over and we know how it ends - so that means I won't be writing about Buffy and Angel or Spike here. Consider this post a haven from the Spuffangelight wank if you like. :-)

Dial-up warning: post contains lots of images.


Buffy the Bank Robber

Buffy was a bankrobber,
But she never hurt nobody.
She just loved to live that way,
And she loved to steal your money.


Some is rich and some is poor,
And that's the way the world is.
She don't believe in lying back
And saying how bad her life is
.


The very first time we see Buffy in Season 8, she and her friends, all well-equipped with modern technology, are jumping out of a helicopter. Fans saw this and immediately began asking, how the heck did she afford all that stuff?

Buffy and friends jumping out of a helicopter
Image from BtVS 8.01 'The Long Way Home' Part 1.
Scene: the sky above a demon stronghold somewhere in Europe.

BUFFY (voice-over): The thing about changing the world... once you do it, the world's all different. Everybody calls me "ma'am" these days.

For the record, the start of Season 8 is said to be about 18 months to two years after the end of Season 7, so clearly a lot has been happening in the intervening time.

In the same issue, we learn that the authorities are now aware of Buffy's actions, and know that she "has resources", and see her as a potential threat.

General Voll thinks Buffy is a terrorist
Image from BtVS 8.01 'The Long Way Home' Part 1.
Scene: A US Army helicopter flying over the crater that was once Sunnydale.

GENERAL VOLL: We go ahead with this, we gotta be together on exactly what we're facing, and that's an army. They got power, they got resources, and they got a hard-line ideology that does not jibe with American interests. Worst of all, they got a leader. Charismatic, uncompromising and completely destructive.


As an interlude, shortly afterwards Buffy has one of her weird symbolic dreams. This contains lots of foreshadowing, most of which is a different subject for discussion some other time. But one line is interesting, because it suggests Buffy herself is harbouring a guilty conscience about something:

Buffy is afraid she herself is 'the dark'
Image from BtVS 8.02 'The Long Way Home' Part 2.
Scene: Buffy's dream. Her bedroom in the castle in Scotland.

BUFFY: No, no, I can't go outside, I'm afraid of the dark.
XANDER: Buffy, you are the dark.
BUFFY: That's what I meant
.


But now we skip forward to issue 8 of the season, and discover that it's not only the fans and the US army who were curious about Buffy's access to resources. Apparently, Willow is just as much in the dark about it as we were back then.

(As a side note: we learned prior to this issue that Willow effectively disappeared for several months before the start of Season 8 - doing magical research in other dimensions - which is why she's out of the loop now about what Buffy's been up to recently.)

Buffy has asked for Willow's help in setting up a radar station in their headquarters in Scotland, and now asks Willow if she thinks they should install sonar in the castle moat as well: 

Buffy wants to install sonar in the castle moat. Willow is dubious.
Image from BtVS 8.08 'No Future For You' Part 3.
Scene: Control room of Slayer HQ in Scotland.

WILLOW: I'm all for the shiny new gizmodos, but... how the heck can we afford all this stuff?
BUFFY: We have friends with pockets deeper than the ones in Dawnie's giant pants, Will. But some donors like to stay anonymous, you know?


Buffy claims that the money comes from 'mystery benefactors'... but as we'll soon learn, she's lying to her friend. That suggests, at the very least, that she thinks Willow will disapprove if she learns the truth; or maybe she has a guilty conscience and doesn't want to implicate Willow in her own wrongdoing. It's also been speculated that Buffy's eagerness to find ways to spend all the money also speaks to the fact that it's burning a hole in her pocket; she needs to spend it on ways to protect her Slayers in order to justify to herself having it in the first place.

Two episodes later, we - and Willow - discover the true source of the Slayers' funding, as a powerful demon uses its magic to show Buffy and Willow images of their past and future:

Oh noes! Buffy's secret is out!
Image from BtVS 8.10 'Anywhere But Here'
Scene: Sephrilian's lair: vision of a Swiss bank vault.

WILLOW: Are these Slayers?
BUFFY: In a Swiss bank? That's crazy nonsense. I'm sure I would have found out.
VISION-BUFFY: Get a move on, ladies! We've got two minutes before those... so sparkly... before those guards wake up!


So the truth is: Buffy and a group of Slayers (including, by the looks of it, Renee, Leah and Satsu) robbed a Swiss bank. The fact that Buffy knows exactly how much longer the guards will be unconscious for suggests - and it's confirmed in a later issue - that she also used wiccan magic to help them get in and out again unnoticed.
 
One of the criticisms of this plot arc is that we never really get to see what motivated Buffy to take such a drastic step. We do know that she's been spending all the money on equipment and facilities to help her Slayers fight evil more safely and effectively than they ever could have without it, but not whether there were any specific events leading her to this point.

The other major controversy is whether it's too much out of character for Buffy to behave in this way. Some people certainly think so; they see her as almost painfully law-abiding and moral. For my own part, I'd say there are two main circumstances in the show when Buffy feels it's acceptable to break the law. One is when she thinks a greater good will be achieved through illegal means - as when she committed felony arson and caused potentially millions of dollars of damage by burning down her high school gymnasium in Season 0, or when she raised no objection to Anya and Andrew going to loot a hospital in Season 7.

The other - which is much rarer - is when she thinks it's cool. We saw this in her very first chronological appearance, in the flashback in 'Becoming', when she's just stolen some lipstick from Macy's. (When the monks made Dawn out of Buffy, the kleptomania must have come from somewhere...) We saw it when Faith encouraged her to let loose in 'Bad Girls' and break into a sporting goods store, and when her invisibility freed her from social constraints in 'Gone'. This is a side of Buffy that she normally keeps firmly repressed and under control; but that doesn't mean it's not there. Her expression in this panel of the comic when she looks at the sparkly diamond perhaps shows it coming out.

Willow is as shocked at this revelation as the readers were, and immediately begins to lecture Buffy on why what she did was a mistake:

Willow enters lecture mode.
Image from BtVS 8.10 'Anywhere But Here'
Scene: Sephrilian's lair.

WILLOW: So the mysterious benefactor bankrolling the Slayer army...
BUFFY: It's all insured! It's a victimless crime! And we totally found a Watteau the Nazis hid and sent it to the Tate! That happens in a minute! It's only money.
WILLOW: And money changes everything. This is where it all starts, Buffy. What your enemies saw. Slayers acting above the law, and endangering their most precious possession: their possessions. This is the first domino.
BUFFY: Ooh! Look! Here's a you bad thing!


Watteau is an 18th century French painter; the Tate is an art gallery in London (which, for the record, doesn't normally display paintings by 18th century French artists, but whatever... Buffy might not have known that either *g*) Buffy's final words "It's only money" are written in a smaller font in a speech bubble that's too large for them, which is the comics way of showing she's speaking in a small voice.

What we see here is Buffy attempting rather desperately to justify her actions, saying that they didn't hurt anybody and besides, at least some of the money they stole was itself ill-gotten Nazi loot so they did a good thing, right? But it's clear from her tone of voice that she's not sure Willow will be convinced, and arguably there's an air of her trying to convince herself too. Finally, at the end of this scene she gratefully seizes on a distraction to divert attention away from herself, as another vision (one dealing with one of Willow's morally suspect actions, this time) begins. Buffy definitely has a guilty conscience about her actions.

Willow's lecture calls back to General Voll's speech quoted above, and as such ties into the "public opinion turns against Slayers" plot arc of the season.

This issue ends with Buffy apparently rejecting the lesson she has learned, and saying that the visions they saw were nothing but "demons playing games". Willow, by her expression, is less than convinced.

Buffy is still in denial, maybe?
Image from BtVS 8.10 'Anywhere But Here'
Scene: Outside Sephrilian's lair.

BUFFY: It was demons. Playing games.

However, we see from the next issue that Buffy has, in fact, taken the lessons to heart; she was just unwilling to admit it. She's sitting in the control room at Slayer HQ late at night, brooding over her mistakes, when Xander brings her a cup of coffee and encourages her to open up to him.

The specific incident which triggered Buffy's self-reflection is the revelation that Simone, one of the new Slayers, has gone rogue and organised her own heist much like Buffy's bank robbery - but instead of stealing money, Simone's gang has stolen guns and ammunition. In the panels of the issue I've not reprinted here, Buffy acknowledges the parallel between them, and admits that Simone is only following the example she herself has set to the other Slayers.

Buffy is brooding in the darkness. Angel taught her a lot, you know.
Image from BtVS 8.11 'A Beautiful Sunset'
Scene: Slayer HQ control room, late at night.

BUFFY: I started it. Willow says my little Thomas Crown Affair is what got people so riled up in the first place.
XANDER: Is that why she took off so suddenly? 'Cause you're an international jewel thief? Which is, sidebar, incredibly sexy?


The original 1968 Steve McQueen film, 'The Thomas Crown Affair', is about a wealthy businessman who organises a bank robbery for kicks, then has an affair with the investigator trying to solve the crime. The 1999 remake starring Pierce Brosnan involved an art theft rather than a bank robbery and had a different ending, but was otherwise similar.

In this scene, Buffy is - as usual - blaming herself for what went wrong, and recognising that her expedient end-justifies-the-means actions have had unfortunate consequences. She's set a bad example to the other Slayers, who all look on her as a role model; and now she's in a leadership position instead of just acting alone, she no longer has the luxury of being able to ignore the message her actions send.

Xander is being his usual supportive self on an emotional level. However, it's notable that while in earlier seasons he was often the one to call Buffy out over her less-inspired actions while Willow was more of an uncritical cheerleader, here the roles are reversed. Xander clearly knew about Buffy's robbery, although it seems he wasn't closely involved in it; but while Willow immediately knew it was a mistake, Xander thought it was all rather sexy.

The robbery plot is now tied into the large themes of the season, one of which is what happens to a formerly-private person who is forced into a public position of influence, where both friends and enemies alike are watching her actions closely. In the same issue, Joss calls this out specifically as the season's Big Bad, Twilight, talks to his minions about his plans for Buffy:

Twilight wants to undermine Buffy's sense of moral certainty.
Image from BtVS 8.11 'A Beautiful Sunset'
Scene: Twilight's HQ (pre-lapped over a scene of Buffy comforting Satsu in a graveyard after a battle).

TWILIGHT: The trick is to strip her of her greatest armour: her moral certainty. However hapless she may be about her personal life, this girl has always firmly believed she was on the side of right.

Buffy's apparent slide into moral greyness is one of the dominant themes of the season, and one which is still continuing in current issues. More specifically, by focussing on her mission to save the world by creating an army of Slayers, she's in danger of losing sight of the interests of the people she's supposed to be doing all of this to protect in the first place. Twilight, who apparently believes that her decision to empower all the Potentials in the first place was a mistake, is seeking to undermine her self-confidence and make her believe that her actions, however well-intentioned, have led to nothing but disaster.

The bank robber arc therefore fades away at this point as a separate plot point, becoming part of one of the larger themes of the season. The last time it is specifically referred to is in issue 8.16, as Willow and Buffy fly from the UK to New York:

Willow teases Buffy about her stealing.
Image from BtVS 8.16 ' Time Of Your Life' Part 1
Scene: The cabin of an airliner.

WILLOW: This is nice, Buff. More largess from your mysterious benefactor who is actually you stealing things?
BUFFY: You know, we do have some legitimate funding...
WILLOW: Ah, I'm just ribbin'.
BUFFY: 'Kay. Colour me ribbed.


For the most part, Buffy and Willow seem to be back to being fully comfortable with each other again by this stage of the season - they've had several friendly conversations in the intervening issues - but Willow can't resist needling Buffy about her theft, and Buffy is still clearly uncomfortable and guilty about it.

The source of the 'legitimate funding' isn't discussed further, although several speculations have been made. (Watchers' Council funds, contributions from Slayers' families, donations from people whose lives they've saved, etc.)

The following panel, while not strictly relevant to the story arc, is of interest for two reasons. One, Buffy in this story travels forward in time 200 years to meet the future Slayer Melaka Fray, whose professional occupation is, in fact, a thief. Two, we learn here that Buffy has stolen the flying car she's driving (driving badly) because they need it to get where they're going. As far as I know, this theft has caused precisely zero controversy in fandom, because it's the kind of petty crime Buffy committed in just about every third episode on the TV show (theft, breaking and entering, criminal damage, assault). :-)

Buffy steals a car
Image from BtVS 8.18 ' Time Of Your Life' Part 3
Scene: A flying car over the city of Haddyn in the 23rd century.

BUFFY: Hey, it's my first time with Grand Theft Flying Auto -- I think i'm doing swell.
MELAKA: Summers, you drive like a spaz!
BUFFY: And that phrase stood the test of time?
MELAKA: We had to grab this rig. Get low.


(Much of the previous conversation between the two Slayers has been about how much the English language has evolved in the intervening two centuries, hence the context to the joking call-back to 'Band Candy'.)

The coda to the bank robbery arc comes in issue 23, as Buffy goes to confront the rogue Slayer Simone who - as we saw above - is modelling her own illegal actions on the example Buffy set with her bank robbery. Buffy can clearly see that what Simone is doing is wrong... but she is no longer blind to the effects her own activities have had. As Adelle DeWitt says in another Joss show written around the same time, "Actions have consequences."

Buffy, with Andrew's help, has discovered that Simone and her gang have taken over a small Italian island to use as a base, dispossessing the former inhabitants:

Buffy realises the effects of Simone's actions
Image from BtVS 8.23 ' 'Predators and Prey'
Scene: an Italian fishing village.

BUFFY: We're going to go talk to the angry woman. She can't just take your home. Someone needs to explain that to her.


If the parallel between Simone and things Buffy herself has done isn't obvious enough, I invite you to remember the episode 'Touched' as you read Buffy's line about not taking people's homes away from them. :-)

Simone herself rubs this in, as she manages to (*gasp!*) win the fight against Buffy, by the sneaky tactic of bringing a gun to a swordfight:

Buffy and Simone - BFFs?
Image from BtVS 8.23 ' 'Predators and Prey'
Scene: Simone's base in the Italian fishing village.

BUFFY: I'm really not a fan of guns.
SIMONE: And here I thought we had so much in common, philosophy-wise.


There's surely lots of symbolism here about Buffy's method of doing things, one vampire at a time, no longer working so well when confronted by the larger realities of the modern world. We're not in Sunnydale any more.

Buffy escapes, but is unable to beat or drive away Simone; the islanders do not get their homes back. Buffy reflects on her defeat, which was ultimately caused by her own actions: 

Life's not fair.
Image from BtVS 8.23 ' 'Predators and Prey'
Scene: Outside the Italian fishing village.

ITALIAN GIRL: But that was our home! Where are we going to go now?
BUFFY: I don't know. I just know you'll be safer somewhere else.
ITALIAN GIRL: Everything in our lives has changed. It isn't fair.
BUFFY: I know.


That exchange, in the best 'Buffy' tradition, reveals as much about Buffy's own state of mind as it does about the person she's nominally talking to. The line about 'everything in our lives has changed' calls back to Buffy's own line in the very first issue about changing the world; and the dialogue about 'going somewhere to be safer' foreshadows the upcoming 'Retreat' arc.

At the end of the issue, Buffy has a "Kirk and McCoy" moment with Andrew. He's upset because he screwed up and did something bad, even though he did it for a perfectly noble reason. Buffy can relate. She can definitely relate:

But we all make mistakes.
Image from BtVS 8.23 ' 'Predators and Prey'
Scene: Temporary Slayer HQ, Scotland.

BUFFY: Look, Andrew. You were willing to sacrifice yourself to save innocent people. For a greater good. That's huge for you. You should be proud.
ANDREW: But you were right. I lied to you.
BUFFY: Yeah, you're part of the family. Get used to screwing up for good reasons. It's what we do.


I'll let Buffy's words there stand as the final words of this meta. I know it's a trait of the Scooby Gang which drives some fans mad, but it's so characteristic of them to know this and accept it.

"Get used to screwing up for good reasons. It's what we do."


Comments

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 16th March 2010 18:52 (UTC)

Thanks!

I'be always thought that Angel is a very difficult character to write, because he doesn't have much in the way of verbal mannerisms or catch phrases. There's a dry, deadpan humour, but that's all done by tone of voice and reads very flat when just done in dialogue. Still, it's not incredible to me that this is Angel talking, if you accept that it's Angel pretending to be a bad guy.

Posted by: ladypeyton (ladypeyton)
Posted at: 16th March 2010 19:23 (UTC)

It's not the mannerisms that get me. I'm far from a Bangel. I experience physical pain if forced to watch their melodrama in the 3rd season of BTVS (similar, I imagine, to what Xander experienced when he eavesdropped on them in The Zeppo), but I don't buy Angel volunarily causing Buffy pain and this is what he's advising his motley band of demons to do. Cause Buffy emotional turmoil.

I just don't believe he'd ever do that. Not even whilst pretending because pretending or not, her pain is very real.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 16th March 2010 20:00 (UTC)
angel

I don't buy Angel volunarily causing Buffy pain

Remember Bufy sobbing frantically and desperately in Angel's arms in 'I Will Remember You' because of a decision he took "in her own best interests" without consulting her? Or for that matter him punching her (after she hit him, granted) and then ordering her to "get out of my town" because she disagreed with his decision to help Faith?

I think Angel would *hate* causing Buffy pain, but I don't think he'd hesitate for a moment to *do* it, if he honestly thought it was the right thing to do. For Angel, being a Champion is all about sacrificing what you want to do for what you must do.

Posted by: 2maggie2 (2maggie2)
Posted at: 16th March 2010 22:06 (UTC)

In IWRY the pain was short-lived and was going to be permanently forgotten. The punch was spontaneous reaction to having been punched, and he went up to SD to offer an apology, even though some might say he had the right of it.

This is serious pain and suffering. I'm hoping they'll explain why he didn't just pick up a phone and collaborate with her.

Posted by: mikeda (mikeda)
Posted at: 17th March 2010 00:16 (UTC)

didn't just pick up a phone

Presumably because he thought that whatever actions "needed" to be taken were things that Buffy wouldn't do (or that he didn't want her to be doing).

And on the subject of causing Buffy pain, I would also like to point out (from "The Prom"):

Angel: I've been thinking... about our future. And the more I do, the more I feel like us, you and me being together, is unfair to you.

Angel is clearly willing to cause Buffy pain if he thinks it is something that needs to happen for her own good. I expect that he would be similarly willing if he thinks it is necessary for the sake of the world.

Posted by: ladypeyton (ladypeyton)
Posted at: 16th March 2010 22:31 (UTC)

Dayum. That makes sense.

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