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(Review) BtVS 9.02 'Freefall' Part II

12th October 2011 (21:02)

Well, that was fun. 

They definitely seem to be going for a more straightforward storytelling approach in Season 9, both the Buffy and Angel'n'Faith titles,as opposed to the convoluted 25-mysteries and 67-plot twists per issue style of Season 8. As one of the few who actually enjoyed that aspect of the previous season that's vaguely disappointing for me: but the characterisation and dialogue are as strong as ever, the story is certainly an interesting one even if it's not quite as puzzling, and frankly from a commercial point of view I think Dark Horse are going down the right track now.

And besides there still might be major plot twists to come. My money is still on a Buffy pregnancy story coming up some time this season.

:-)


Anyway: the review.


For our teaser we're back to the two police detectives we met in 9.01: Dowling, the rookie, and his partner, who is still nameless. They've found another dead body with no marks or apparent cause of death. This one's male, however - a few people wondered last month if it was only female bodies being found, but apparently not. And then it's revealed that in fact there are *seven* bodies just the same, all scattered around the same alleyway.

Back to last issue's cliffhanger, and Buffy being asked to repay her student loan by a demon. It seemed appropriate that it's Spike who tries to support Buffy by claiming that the zeroes on the figure she owes are just drips of slime, and Willow is the cold voice of reality saying no, they're zeroes. Buffy reacts as she often does - by trying to solve her problems with violence - but both her friends manage to talk her out of it. The demon is presented sympathetically - it's just working as a bill collector as a day job to earn a living. Which makes me wonder if Buffy herself should look into the same line of work... Buffy empties her bank account to pay the demon, who - after a little extra persuasion from Spike - agrees to accept it as a down payment.

At this point there's an important little continuity element, which I think is part of the whole new approach of spelling things out instead of leaving the readers to assume them. Spike wants to know why Buffy can't just pay off her loan from the money she stole last season. Buffy counters that she only "stole to pay for the cause", not for her own private benefit - although she admits to also getting "the occasional outfit". Which is what I thought all along: although she's not been entirely selfless, she wasn't stealing so she could live a life of luxury herself as is sometimes claimed. We also get a new revelation - that Riley was the one who negotiated an amnesty "between Slayers and Interpol", and as part of that Buffy gave back the remaining stolen money. Which, I think, is Andrew Chambliss's way of drawing a neat line under this Season 8 plot element and explaining why Buffy is now working as a waitress with no cash in the bank.
The fact that the demon was trapped in this dimension when Buffy broke the Seed is played up to humanise him, and is partly why Buffy is guilted into paying him. I know some fans pine for the days when all demons were merely the enemy and everything was black and white, but it's hardly a new revelation - remember Clem? - and seems to play into the theme of Season 9, as will shortly be emphasised even further.

Willow gets to say a little more about her thoughts on the destruction of the Seed. She's still being surprisingly mature and non-bitter about it, although Georges drew her in what I thought was a particularly vulnerable-looking pose when she's holding her hands over her heart and talking about losing her own powers (or rather, "losing what made her tick"). Notice how she's drawn quite small in the frame, with a large empty black space around her to emphasise her fragility. By the end of Season 8 (and 'Goddesses and Monsters') it was clear to me that Willow was no longer interested in magic merely as a tool or a source of power. It was fundamental to her identity, the same way being the Slayer is core to Buffy's identity. Now the magic is gone, Willow is left hollow. It's also an interesting reversal that it's Willow who turns her back and walks off alone into the shadows, leaving Spike to talk to Buffy. You'd kind of expect it to be the other way around.

If Willow has any specific reason to talk to Buffy about the Seed - an actual plan or danger - it's not revealed here. But she does make clear that she thinks Buffy is being selfish or self-absorbed, assuming that it's all over and she can just go on with her life now. Willow warns about the fallout: we've already seen some of that with the releae of El Draco a well as the loan collector demon, and presumably there's more to come.

Speaking of El Draco, he's tracked down Buffy ("destroyer magic") to her room. Whether he wants to kill her or thank her for releasing him is still an open question, although probably it'll be the first. It usually is. Buffy's tidied up a lot since the party - which was presumably the previous night - though she's still left some clothes draped over the bed and floor. There's also a rather prominent framed picture of a woman looking over her shoulder on the wall. It's possibly meant to be Dawn, although I can't think why you'd want a giant picture of your sister staring down at you when you're in bed. :-) Or it's just decoration, but it seems an odd choice.

El Draco finds Buffy's weapon chest, with the 'Vampyr' book she inherited from Giles inside it, and realises she's a Slayer. Meanwhile, her flatmate Tumble is making ramen noodles as a midnight snack and decides to offer some to Buffy as well, presumably hearing noise from her room and assuming she's still up. As some people noticed in the preview, he walks straight into her room without knocking - but at least this time she's not in bed with Satsu. He finds the room empty and the window wide open - rather than being killed, as some people worried.

Meanwhile, our detectives are figuring out what most of us guessed a month ago: the dead bodies are vampires who've somehow been converted back to humans. Specifically, the woman who was found in last month's issue is Cynthia Daniels who disappeared without trace back in 1941. So here's some fallout from the Harmony storyline of last season, although it's interesting that the police are only now getting to grips with the implications of the existence of vampires. In fact, Dowling refers to "reality TV" as the source of his information: it seems most mundanes in the Buffyverse assumed that vampires were "a Hollywood thing", perhaps - maybe even just a stunt? - and only gradually is the official world adjusting to their reality.

Buffy's out slaying because, she thinks, it's the only thing she's good at. Real life - and talking to Willow - are too complicated. She does say that she needs to figure out "how to make Willow understand" why she broke the Seed - which does seem to indicate that there's more to it, at least in her mind, than just "I had to do it to save the world". My theory is that Buffy had two options: she could try to defend the Seed, as Willow wanted, which would be difficult and costly and not an automatic success. Or she could break it, which had the benefit of simplicity and ending their immediate problems in a stroke, but will seemingly have drastic longterm consequences. So did Buffy take the easy way out? The soft option? Willow seems to think so. Moreover, did she do so not out of any careful calculation of the costs and benefits, but out of pure grief and rage when Giles died - taking the view that because magic and the supernatural were responsible for her current situation, she was going to destroy them forever and damn the consequences for everybody else?

Anyway, Buffy saves a young man with wavy black hair and a waistcoat (Americans call them 'vests', I understand) from a vampire - and is caught by the police in the act of staking it. She gives herself up, and next we see is handcuffed to a table in an interrogation room. (We don't see the handcuffs until later, but notice that she's keeping her left hand beneath the table at all times - presumably it's restrained.) And here's another consequence of vampires being public knowledge - the police take an interest in people caught staking them.

An interesting titbit: the police apparently requested Buffy's FBI file when she was arrested, but were only allowed to see part of it. Is this connected to the 'amnesty' that was negotiated, or just a general sign that the US government is still trying to cover up the facts about Slayers? Anyway, Buffy points out the obvious fact that staked vampires normally go 'poof' rather than leaving a body behind, let alone over 12 bodes (which is how many pictures are shown to her). Our detectives decide that they've no proof of her involvement yet but they're going to keep on holding her for questioning.

This raises the question of whether staking a vampire is, in fact, breaking any laws. Is it murder? Can you kill someone who's already legally dead? What about bringing charges of assault? Desecrating a corpse? With vampires now being public knowledge these are all questions that will need to be answered, although at least for the moment it seems that these detectives are kind of winging it. 
Anyway, Buffy impulsively decides to break out of custody - her motive being, as far as I can tell, that the police have no clue what they're dealing with so it's up to her to find out who's killed at least a dozen people. Once she finds the real culprit she seem to be assuming that everything will be okay again - possibly an overoptimistic assumption, although it kind of depends on whether the Buffyverse is currently following story-logic or real-world logic here.
As was said in Season 3 with regard to Faith, there's no way the ordinary mundane police can hold a Slayer prisoner unless she wants to be there and cooperates. Buffy bends open her handcuffs and apparently climbs out of the window up onto the roof of the police station to escape. And now she's a wanted fugitive with her face being broadcast on TV. (Something else she now has in common with Faith. :-))

The picture they're using is an old one, circa early season 4 by the look of it - not identical to the one the bill collector demon was given, but same era. Buffy has her hair in a different style to when she was arrested. We also learn that the region where the bodies were found is around Jackson Square, which is in the top right hand corner of downtown San Francisco, fairly near the waterfront. Presumably that's where Buffy lives? In which case I suspect a certain amount of Hollywood-style rent affordability fudging going on...


Buffy sneaks through the window of Dawn and Xander's apartment. Xander's reference to a one-armed man is a reference to the 1960s TV series 'The Fugitive', in which the title character was wrongly convicted of a murder actually committed by a man with one arm, and spent the next 120 episodes fleeing from the police while attempting to find the real killer. I was amused by the revelation that Buffy can't crash on their couch because Xander is being forced to sleep there as he and Dawn have quarrelled. Her expressions of disgust looking at him were cute. A few months back the fact that Buffy would be on the run and Xander and Dawn wouldn't take her in was revealed in spoilers, causing much outrage at their lack of friendship. In the event, I think Buffy would be the first to agree it would be really, really awkward for her to stick around under these circumstances...

We're not told what the problem is. It may just be a trivial couple-type quarrel, or it may be more serious and linked to whatever problem Xander didn't want to talk to Buffy about in the last issue. Or maybe Dawn discovered Xander slept with Buffy at the party and knocked her up, although I doubt the last one. She'd be mad at her sister too, not just at Xander, in that case. 

Also, Buffy mentions that not needing much sleep is a Slayer power. While I've long suspected this - given all the nights she spends patrolling only to have to get up at the usual time next morning - this is the first time it's been openly stated in canon.
Next up is an honest-to-goodness genuine Spuffy scene. I mean, Buffy tells Spike she'd "probably" miss him if he was dead, which for them is the next best thing to a declaration of undying love. :-) Also she smiles at him and says "Thanks" when he offers to help her.  Aww. She's also finally taking him seriously when he says that somebody is coming after her. (Whether this is El Draco - as seen this issue - or soone else remains to be discovered.)

Notice also that Buffy uses the same words Willow used in relation to the Seed, about what "makes vampires tick". It's also stressed that it's not just her powers but her personality that's bound up with being the Slayer - again, compare and contrast Willow's situation after the Seed broke. Although Buffy wouldn't, at this particular point, say no to losing her Slayer status.

And the final scene: Buffy once again saves wavy-haired waistcoat guy from a vampire - but he claims to be "a Slayer like you" and offers to help. Buffy kind of ignores that and chases the vampire down an alley - but it's a trap, and a dozen more vampires are laying in wait for her. She's even knocked flying and drops her weapon, so she's in real danger - until WHWG saves her. (I'm guessing this is the character called 'Severin', but he's not actually been named yet.)

And we were right: he can burn the demon out of vampires, leaving nothing but a human corpse behind. His eyes glow white when he does it, and apparently he can do it to multiple vampires at once, or at least very quickly to each in succession. However, given that he was having trouble before, it looks like his powers are slow to activate, or can only activate in particular circumstances. (Or maybe, he was waiting to use them until he had Buffy's attention?) 

There have been hints that this character is a human with some sort of innate powers, but these were suppressed by magic until the Seed broke. On the othe hand, he could be a human-appearing demon; there's no way to tell yet, and also, I'd point out, no way for Buffy to know.

It's interesting that he thinks of himself as a Slayer: if we take it that in the Buffyverse 'Slayer' codes as 'Woman', that could spark a whole debate over whether gender is performative or essentialist. After all, he apparently goes out every night and uses his supernatural powers to slay vampires...

Buffy is initially hostile to this disturbance of the status quo, but immediately sees the personal benefits of the idea. This, of course, is reminiscent of her reaction to meeting both Kendra and Faith back in the day. One suspects that Wavy Haired Waistcoat Guy will in the end prove equally unable to take Buffy's place as the Chosen One, although doubtless the details will differ.

Of course, there's the slight complication that Buffy escaped from police custody so she could track down the real killer - and now she's found him she probably won't want to hand him over after all. Whoops.

And finally, congratulation to angearia for apparently becoming a household name who needs no introduction or explanation in the letters column. ♥ 

Comments

Posted by: norwie2010 (norwie2010)
Posted at: 13th October 2011 02:45 (UTC)

Thanks as always for the review. :)

I think the "boot" Buffy gets from Dawn and Xander highlights normalcy: in the real world, you don't send your boyfriend to hell, or to a fiery death on the hellmouth - you send him to the couch. (And then the two of you deal with it and fight it out alone, without worried scoobies to interfere, judge and execute.)

Buffy saying "you're trying to have a normal life" reads just as bit of highlighting that. (This is me, wanking in a third layer into the text...)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 13th October 2011 09:51 (UTC)

More layers are always hepful! And yes, it does seem to be part of, to quote Joss, "Au revoir, Monsieur le Métaphor". The same way that the police aren't now just rubbing their eyes in disbelief when they see a vampire get staked, but actually arresting Buffy. The real world is creeping in now the Seed is broken.

Posted by: norwie2010 (norwie2010)
Posted at: 13th October 2011 14:10 (UTC)

I'm wondering how Severin and his kill technique comes into play without metaphor. Just "cool" superpower because it is a comic book? On the metaphor front it doesn't make sense that a guy is able to melt Buffy's demons away, but if it is no metaphor it seems just to be some kind of supernatural cop thriller.

His entrance into the story doesn't do anything for me - saving the damsel heroine in distress seems very bland and overly "lookatme! Imma author stand-in!" (Yeah, that's me, being mean again... ;-))

Posted by: aycheb (aycheb)
Posted at: 13th October 2011 17:56 (UTC)

I think the lack of metaphor is a metaphor (I thought it was in S6 too). Without magic vampires are safer to be around but incontrovertibly dead. More normal, more real, more adult but less fun and you'd probably miss them.

Posted by: norwie2010 (norwie2010)
Posted at: 13th October 2011 18:11 (UTC)

But they're not, are they? There needs to be someone with superpowers (magic) to make them so.

(Gah! These 10 minutes of story vs. 1 month of commercials is seriously cramping my enjoyment.)

So, i still wonder (without seed) how it fits. One of the upcoming covers has Severin severing the demonic thread while Buffy tries to decipher it. Action vs. refection.

Posted by: aycheb (aycheb)
Posted at: 13th October 2011 19:06 (UTC)

I meant without *their* magic. Severin's gone very quiclky from three bodies one at a time to two lots of nine in one blow, like a trigger happy rookie on a spree. And (maybe a tangent by I thought it an want to say it) when Buffy used to wish she was normal she never made it conditional on vampires being gone. So while Spike pushes slayerness as hardwired, Buffy makes it conditional on the world still needing people to do what she does. I think that's growth of a sort.

Posted by: norwie2010 (norwie2010)
Posted at: 13th October 2011 23:08 (UTC)

So while Spike pushes slayerness as hardwired, Buffy makes it conditional on the world still needing people to do what she does. I think that's growth of a sort.

Hm hm. Maybe i'm not able to decipher us-american superhero comic books but to me they are both kind of right. (And maybe i'd change my stance on that depending on the acting of live actors. So many nuances lost!)

Being there for others, fighting the hard lot that's dealt to the poor souls (in dark alleys) is hardwired into Buffy. Maybe she could stop slaying vampires - but she could only stop standing up for others if she got a personality transplant (and i've personally witnessed people changing like that).

So - does Spike mean it in the "supernatural" sense? Buffy without violence and slaying is no fun, and that's hardwired into her? Or is that more "i love ... what you do, how you try"?

And is Buffy's "condition" insight, or wish? Because, let's face it: the fight is never over (in practice). Theoretically, yes, the world could come to a place where it is not needed that people are there for others, standing up for others - and themselves - but i really doubt that would happen anytime soon (like, in forever).

This could be read several ways: Buffy's retreat to private-ness. Or, as you say, the insight that it is not "fighting because of the fight", but fighting because and only when it is needed. (same with Spike: he could be all about fighting because of the fight, or Buffy being a stand up person, a good friend to strangers, so to speak).

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