(Review) BtVS 9.07 'On Your Own' Part II
Well, I certainly wasn't expecting that. It raises lots of questions, (like, WHEN DID THAT HAPPEN??), but also explains a few things we've been seeing lately. Also, this gives me a chance to break out the T:SCC icons again, for a 'Buffy' review. :)
I'll address the big questions at the end of this review. But first, back to Buffy's roommates. It's nice to see new characters being given page-time: I think it keeps the Buffyverse fresh, and of course on the TV show we got new recurring characters almost every season. Mind you, that has the downside, given the comics format, that's it's literally months since we last saw Dawn, Willow or Xander. What are they doing?
I assume the 'vote out of the apartment' line was a reality TV homage, not to mention a callback to everyone's favourite scene from late in Season 7. Ironically, Buffy's flatmates don't actually want her to go - but it's too late, because she herself has chosen to leave. There's a big metaphor here about peer pressure and the harsh judgement of society. Both Anaheed and Tumble assumed they had to make a show of hostility to Buffy because the other person expected it of them, not because it fitted with their own preferences. And Buffy assumed the worst and left before she could be kicked out, rather than trust her flatmates to see the better side of her and accept her. Distrust, lack of communication and submitting to peer pressure lead to you losing your friends or being forced to live in a bug-infested spaceship.
Well, probably not the second one for most people. I wonder if Buffy moving out is final, and we won't see Anaheed and Tumble again? Or will her be (another) twist?
So Buffy is being quietly reflective and a bit down on herself, sitting on the roof of Spike's mobile home. It's significant that she compares herself as a hated outcast to Spike in vampface. This is setting up their big fight later in the issue, of course: Buffy says she "fails at all things ordinary", and she's comparing herself to Spike in that respect. Nice, although at this stage the implications of that aren't brought forward.
The preview picture of Buffy touching her belly caused a few people to think she wouldn't be going through with the abortion, but the context of the scene now shows this isn't really mother-zygote bonding, but more Buffy remembering which of her many problems Spike was specifically referring to. And she's convinced she's doing the right thing. (and for that matter, the fact that she didn't realise immediately what Spike meant shows that she's not obsessing over this particular thing. It was kind of sweet that Spike made the phone calls on her behalf, though.
Quick intermission to Dowling and Cheung - Cheung is baiting her partner about his 'play date', but Dowling now keeps stakes in the glove compartment of his unmarked patrol car. Which is shown zooming over the crest of one of San Francisco's hills in a way that will surely wreck its suspension - notice Spike's bug ship flying in the background, in the same direction.
A '415' is police code for a disturbance of the peace.
I liked Buffy and Spike snarking about clothes: it hangs a lantern on Spike's apparent lack of variation in his wardrobe, and his response that maybe he has multiple copies of that leather coat was funny. (And also true, if 'The Girl in Question' is to be believed.) We have another reference to the bugs' habit of losing their legs (as first seen in the 'Spike' one-shot), which is pretty obvious foreshadowing. But then things get serious.
Spike clearly likes the idea of being Buffy's first choice to run away with, although it's clear he doesn't quite believe it yet. He's also insistent that he would make a good father, which is more call-back to Jane Espenson's last one-shot. But Buffy spoils things. First she says that running away, having a baby and settling in to a life of cosy, (if dingy) domesticity "flouts every Slayer instinct in my body". That doesn't bode too well for their future, although I can see some readers at least rejoicing at the statement that not every woman is brimming over with automatic maternal instinct. But it also raises the question of why Buffy thinks that parenthood and being a Slayer are antithetical. Is it a rational objection, because she doesn't feel that it's possible to be fair to a child while still saving the world from evil demons? Or is it more instinctive, that she thinks there's something about being a mystical killing machine powered by the essence of a demon that makes maternity inadvisable?
But then she comes out with the line about Spike being what she'd run away from if she wanted a normal life, and he takes umbrage. Naturally enough: Spike's whole character arc since Season 5 has been about him trying to become a man instead of a monster - and here's Buffy apparently throwing back in his face that to her, he'll never be anything but a monster. A nice, friendly and supportive monster, sure; but still a monster. There's nothing out of character in Buffy's comments either: it's in line with what she been saying to him ever since "you're my dark place" in S8 if not earlier. It's also pretty clear she didn't mean anything bad by it, but rather it's a difference of perception. Spike wants to be normal; Buffy thinks normal is overrated. She may sometimes be wistful about not being able to lead a normal life, but she seems to have accepted now that she never can. So what she seems to intend as acceptance, he misinterprets as rejection. I did like the 'Whoosh' sound effect as he leaves.
Back to the issue's other plot, as Dowling and Cheung arrive in Pioneer Park to find a nest of rampaging zompires. Coit Tower, in the background, is a real landmark, and Spike's comparison of it to the nozzle of a fire hose is one that's often made in real life too.
I loved the joke about Europeans using alien electric socket designs. Less keen on Spike being over-protective of pregnant Buffy and telling her she can't go slaying in her delicate condition. (Which as Buffy rightly points out, is even more silly because she's not keeping it.) I'm not quite sure what to make of the close-up of Buffy's eyes: she seems to be frowning, but her pupils also seem dilated. So is she simultaneously touched by Spike's concern and angry at his presumption?
Cheung is grabbed by a couple of zompires, and Dowling runs for his life into the tower as about nine more come for him. We don't see Cheung again in this issue, so it's not looking too hopeful for her chances of survival. However Spike did drop down to fight the vampires outside the tower - where we last saw Cheung, not where Dowling ran to - so it's possible he came in time to save her life off-camera.
The shot of the zompires climbing up the outside of the tower was creepy, as was Dowling trying in a panicked fashion to remember how to stake someone. Then Buffy dives to the rescue - blatantly ignoring Spike's instructions to stay safe and out of the fight, naturally. Also, it looks like she jumped out of a flying machine onto the narrow ledge of a 64m high tower - I don't think she could have brought herself to do that before Season 8.
In this season's first arc, Dowling saved Buffy's life. Here she returns the favour. If I interpret the panels correctly, she grabbed his leg and twisted him around violently so his stake went into the chest of the vampire grabbing him - pretty nifty move. And of course, this being 'Buffy', they have a conversation about her love life while she's fighting vampires. Dowling is playing matchmaker for his new buddy Spike, aww.
Buffy then jumps off the top of the 64-metre tower into the middle of the crowd of vampires attacking Spike, and stakes five of them in rapid succession. Not bad, for a human. (But...)
Now we have the big positive emotional Spuffy conversation of the issue. It's revealing that she's surprised by the discovery that he still loves her, although perhaps not surprising to us. Even setting apart the fact that he didn't get in touch with her for two years after being brought back from the dead, there's the way he's been deliberately keeping his distance from her all this season. He's spent more time with Koh and Dowling than with her, from what it seems, and while both of them worked out his true feelings for her long ago, Buffy hasn't had the same opportunity. Plus, there's all her inferiority issues coming into play as well, as demonstrated here. Her self-deprecatory monologue about not having rounded corners was classic Joss even if Andrew Chambliss wrote it. But now Spike gives her the full-blown declaration of love and commitment - and Buffy isn't exactly pulling away even if she seems a little bewildered by it all. He also makes a statement of his independence and autonomy as a person, and makes it clear he's not willing to settle for second best in his relationship with her.
And then comes the big plot twist. Buffy's a robot. When did that happen?
Written like that it sounds pretty silly, and I'm sure lots of people are calling it that even as we speak. But apparently, Joss's inspiration for the plot line was an idea to do a similar storyline to 'Intervention' in Season 5, but this time not let the audience in on the fact that Buffy has been replaced by a 'bot until the characters themselves discover it. And who can hate the Buffybot?
Also, Scott Allie is a troll. As he says in his letter column, quite casually, "Yeah, so the arm thing happened in this issue, even though it's on the next cover." Grrr. :)
I did notice that Buffy feels pain when her arm is ripped off, but after the initial shock she's functioning quite normally on a physical basis. Her mental processes are another matter entirely, of course.
So what's going on? It's actually possible that this is real, human Buffy except with an artificial arm, of course, but I think we're meant to assume that this is a Buffybot. On the other hand, her memories, emotions and thought processes appear to be entirely human. She didn't know she wasn't human; she has none of the Buffybot's vocal quirks or obvious signs of programming. So we have a few options:
She's an AI based on organic!Buffy, but a really, really advanced one - more advanced than Warren managed with the last Buffybot.
Whoever made this robot managed to record Buffy's entire personality and transfer it wholesale into the robot. Like a Dollhouse-style imprint, in other words.
Real, organic!Buffy is still in control. She's a brain in a tank somewhere (hopefully with her real body still attached) and is controlling the robot body remotely, but thinking it's actually her. (Amy Pond-style)
As above, but it's mystical. Buffy's soul has been transferred into this robot while her actual body is being held in stasis somewhere.
Next question: who is doing this? Andrew would be one obvious candidate, especially since we saw him working on a robot arm in a previous issue, and he's mentioned in solicitations for later issues as being involved somehow in this storyline. Another candidate would be Simone and Severin, if we assume that they're the season's Big Bads and this is part of the main season arc. Or it might be someone new.
Was it done without Buffy's consent? The obvious plotline is that she's been kidnapped and replaced by a Stepford Slayer, while the real Buffy is being held captive somewhere. The fact that robot!Buffy didn't even know she was a robot lends strength to this theory. The other possibility, which I think is less likely, is that this is a plan Buffy herself and Andrew came up with off-camera. Presumably in this case the robot!Buffy is a decoy who wasn't told she was a robot to help preserve the secrecy. However, that seems over-complex; while the kidnap theory suggests an obvious storyline for the next few issues.
So who did it and why, and for that matter when? Is it connected to Buffy's pregnancy? One obvious idea - even if Doctor Who did it first - is that real!Buffy is being held prisoner somewhere by someone (Simone?) who wants her baby to restart a new line of Slayers or something of the sort. Robot!Buffy, meanwhile, is there to keep up the pretence and prevent anyone looking for real!Buffy for the next nine months or so.
One obvious flaw in this theory is that there isn't much time for such a complex plan to be put together - it's been a few weeks at most since Buffy became pregnant, which doesn't seem long enough to build such an advanced robot. Unless, of course, whoever built the 'bot did so first and then arranged for her to become pregnant, which opens up a whole new icky can of worms. (Though it doesn't have to mean rape: sabotaging her contraception would work equally well.) Or they've had the robot standing ready for months or years just waiting for whenever Buffy might get herself up the duff. Or, of course, the other alternative is that the robot and kidnapping plot has been prepared for a long time, and Buffy's pregnancy is purely coincidental.
Presumably the substitution was done after the end of 9.05 when Buffy discovered she was pregnant - unless, of course, the robot was designed to register as pregnant to a pregnancy test. (But why go to such lengths?) We saw Buffy drinking coffee with Wood in 9.06, but that's no proof she wasn't already a robot - a 'bot wouldn't be very convincing as a body double if it was unable to mimic human bodily functions. Some people pointed to Buffy's apparent change of attitude between her positive, yay!motherhood expression when she talks to Wood and her downcast appearance when Spike finds her later on, and it's possible that's when the substitution was done - but the implication that real!Buffy would have wanted the baby but only evil!robot!Buffy would abort it is (I hope) not something Joss would ever put out there willingly or deliberately. Unless he was deliberately winding people up, of course. He does that sometimes.
Regarding the story's emotional arc: over the past few months I've seen a lot of Spuffy fans assuming crash positions, on the basis that the comics seemed to be pushing the relationship between those two so hard, that it's inevitable something horrible must be approaching for them. By some points of view, this issue could actually be that crash: we get heartfelt declarations of love and commitment, only to discover that it wasn't the real Buffy and Spike making them, but a robot double. (Well, I assume Spike isn't also a robot. BUT YOU NVER KNOW.) Rug, pulled out from under. Except not really, of course, since Spike's expressions of feeling were entirely genuine. It's just that the real Buffy hasn't heard them yet - unless, as I speculated above, that's still real!Buffy's consciousness controlling the robot body remotely.
What about the metaphor? It seems pretty apt, given how hard some powerful groups in the United States are now campaigning to take away a pregnant woman's right to control her own body. (And I'm not just talking about abortion, although I'm sure that's the justification they use in their own minds. I'm talking about US state representatives saying that if it's good enough for a cow or a pig to carry a dead foetus to term and give birth to a stillborn infant, it should be good enough for a human woman. Or women being put on trial for murder because they took drugs while pregnant and then had a natural miscarriage.) So now she's pregnant, Buffy has lost control of her own body, which has been replaced by a mechanical thing.
There's also questions about the nature of identity. which we know from 'Dolhouse' Joss is interested in. If robot!Buffy believes that she's the real thing, is her belief invalid? If her memories and thought processes are all identical to organic!Buffy's, what gives us the right to say which one is the real one? If real!Buffy gets rescued (and it's not her brain controlling the 'bot remotely), would it be murder to switch off the robot?
Anyway, at least now we know why the cover of this issue reminded so many people of the Stepford Wives. :)