(Review) BtVS 9.08/09 'Apart (Of Me)' Parts I & II
11th May 2012 (19:23)
So here's my take on the first two issues of the 'Apart (Of Me)' arc of 'Buffy' Season 9. This is a two-for-one given that I missed doing a review last month. But I'm still writing them, honest!
Actually, since I'm curious, here's a question:
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So Buffy's a robot. It's a fairly bizarre plot twist, there's no denying: but on the other hand, it's not like the show hasn't done the same before. This time, though, the big difference is that the reveal of the 'Bot was a surprise to the audience as well as to the characters. Plus, as we learn, Buffy's own mind and personality were transferred into the 'bot (without her knowledge), so this is still really 'her' we're dealing with. (Though see below).
I'm also amused by the idea of the writers sitting around in Joss's house before the Season was written and saying, "So, no more magic. What sort of plots can we do now?" and someone else replied "Well, robots are Buffyverse canon, but they're not magical. We could do robots."
Anyway, here's the review of 9.08:
Anyway, here's the review of 9.08:
Buffy's very first reaction is apparently to assume Andrew is responsible, and go to question him. This must be that famous Slayer intuition at work, since she's right to do so.
Well, I assume it's Andrew in the panels due to all the geek paraphernalia in his bedroom; come back Georges Jeanty, all is forgiven. :) It seems to be mostly Star Wars stuff - the Death Star, an X-wing, various action figures, what looks like a toy lightsabre (or knowing Andrew, might actually be a real one...). However he also has Batman and Spiderman action figures, a random Dark Horse comic book, Lady Gaga and 'Glee' posters,andso forth. Also, apparently he keeps an alien abduction kit packed and ready, the same way people in natural-disaster-prone countries keep earthquake or tornado survival kits.
Of course, the backlit figures appearing in his window are, in fact, a sapient non-human creature and a cyborg climbing out of their spaceship into his house, so he's not entirely wrong about the alien abduction. Buffy is, quite understandably, furious with him.
But first we skip to a brief intermission with Dowling. It turns out Detective Cheung really was killed last issue - we last saw her vanishing beneath a crowd of zompires, so it seemed likely, but wasn't confirmed. Here it is though - and Dowling, who was on an adrenaline high last we saw him, is coming down to earth with a nasty crash as he has to identify her body for the medical exminer.
Back to Buffy - and Spike, whom I did smile at as he treads on some unidentified junk lying on Andrew's floor. We get the explanation of the pregnancy scare of the last two issues: it seems there's an imbalance in the 'bot's fake blood that caused it to register as positive on a pregnancy test; the 'bot's food metabolism systems aren't working properly... and Andrew was too embarrassed to program a menstruation function into it. This lead Buffy to assume her period was late after the party in 9.01 and thus wonder if she might be pregnant.
This all seems peculiar given Andrew did program the 'bot to urinate (since Buffy took the pregnancy test) and to "process food", as he puts it. So why baulk at menstruation? Still, Andrew's thought processes often don't resemble our earth logic, and he's already established as being clueless where women (and anybody, really) are concerned. To be as charitable as possible, too, maybe he assumed that the substitution would only be a temporary one, and would last less than a month, so there was no need to bother.
This also gives us a better timeframe as to how much time elapsed between the issues of the season. The end of B9.05 'Slayer, Interrupted' is presumably two to three weeks after the party in 9.01, give or take a couple of weeks and depending on how late "late" had to be for Buffy to get worried. Since 'Freefall' took place over five days, and 'Slayer, Interrupted' over four days, that probably gives us between one and two weeks between 9.04 and 9.05 to play with. I presume the holiday in space from the Free Comic Book Day short took place during that gap.
Andrew has a cupboard full of women's body parts. (Robotic ones) Anyone else find this disturbing? :)
Now we get the revelation of what actually happened - both why Buffy's a robot, and what really went on at that party in 9.01.
It turns out Spike asked Andrew to help search for the Big Bad that he was afraid was coming after Buffy before Season 9 started (who turned out to be Severin). Buffy is momentarily angry with Spike too when it seems he was involved, but calms down again when it's made clear Andrew came up with this plan all by himself. His idea was that if there's an assassin after Buffy, he should replace her with a robot decoy while the real Buffy is hidden away in safety. It's an interesting call-back to the decoy Buffys in Season 8 - and recall that Andrew was involved in that plan too, at least to the extent that it was his idea to have one of the decoys in Rome and dating the Immortal. We know that the Not!Buffy of 'The Chain' was a volunteer, but I think it's actually more moral to use a robot rather than a person for such a dangerous job.
Andrew does tell Buffy that the 'bot is "not expendable", but I think that's more because it's a valuable piece of kit than because its life is equal in value to that of a human. Plus self-preservaton since he doesn't want her to beat him to death.
Of course, what's not moral is doing all this without asking Buffy's permission first. It's a pretty big violation of her personhood and bodily integrity, and I don't think the comic pulls any punches in showing how she's rightfully furious with him. Andrew tries to justify himself by saying that secrecy is essential for a 'witness protection' scheme like this to work - but I suspect he's slipping back into his old habit of constructing a storytale narrative and then trying to force other people to fit into it.
As for the mechanics of it, I did like the idea that Andrew stole Warren's research notes and technology from Twilight's laboratory at the end of Season 8. That neatly explains how Andrew is suddenly an expert on robotics - he isn't, he's copying from someone who was. Although he shows a certain level of practical intelligence that Warren never did with the revelation that he patented a lot of the breakthroughs and then got wealthy off selling them. (Does this mean there'll be commercially-available Buffybots on the market in a few years, though? The mind boggles.)
So Andrew drugged Buffy at the party, so he could substitute the robot body for her real one. It's sobering (so to speak) to see how easy it was for him to do, although we have to bear in mind that Buffy thought she was safe among friends and her guard was down. We also see that she went to her room to get changed out of her wet clothes after the jousting match in the pool, which is a scenario I'd suspected before we knew the truth of what happened at the party.
Spike, on the other hand, was the perfect gentleman: helping her safely to her room, gently fobbing off her drunken sexual advances, then tucking her safely into her bed when she collapses unconscious. Honestly, I'm reminded of when the show was trying to set up Oz as the perfect romantic partner for Willow back in season 2, it's so transparent. True, he did make a sarcastic comment about her forthcoming hangover - which he's now guilty about when Andrew mentions it. Buffy tells him, "Spike, shut up" which is rather abrupt, but not cruel: she's saying she doesn't need him to justify himself to her.
Once Spike had gone, Andrew sneaks in with his Buffybot. Like the Mark 1 version, she turns out to have a mind of her own, getting undressed to match the real Buffy lying there - much to Andrew's disquiet. Andrew clearly doesn't think of these bots as sex toys, despite that being why Warren originally invented them: he's highly uncomfortable with that side of it.
Andrew then used a sufficiently-advanced tech device to transfer Buffy's mind into the bot, and vice-versa. All very Dollhouse, although Andrew Chambliss isn't meta enough to reference that programme directly - he instead has Andrew talking about Blade Runner and Total Recall. It's interesting that he does hang a lampshade on the idea of whether this kind of personality transfer is really possible: is the robot with all Buffy's memories and feelings now the real Buffy? Or is it still only a robot programmed to think it's her? While this could be an involved debate, Buffy cuts it short in the comic by first looking infuriated at the geeky sidetrack, then yawning in boredom as Andrew keeps going on. Now that's a meta comment. :)
There is one complication since this is the Buffyverse: what happened to Buffy's soul? Is it still in her body, or did it get transferred into the robot along with her mind - or is it somehow shared between the two of them? Also, assuming Andrew's plan was needed after all and the Buffybot 2.0 was assassinated - how would he transfer Buffy's mind back into her real body afterwards? Does the 'bot back up Buffy's brain every evening via WiFi to a secure server somewhere? :)
The revelation of what Andrew did seems to make Buffy disgusted and Spike furious. He's more concerned with the pain Buffy's been put through, while her concerns are more existential.
Incidentally, we're told that Severin is "locked up in hospital" - which implies he really is under arrest, something that was unclear in 9.04. So how did Simone get in to see him? Disguise? Killing anyone who got in her way?
Now we get an amusing interlude to what Buffy's real body is up to. In 'The Stepford Wives', the evil inhabitants of the town were replacing their womenfolk with robotic doubles who acted as 'perfect' stereotypical 1950s domesticated, submissive wives. Here, it's the real Buffy who's living the suburban dream while her robot double is the proactive protagonist. Buffy has a professional job, we can assume given she arrives home in her white Toyota Prius wearing a business suit - I wonder how Andrew arranged that? Or did he just program her mind to get in the car, drive around the block and sit in a carpark all day to fool the neighbours into thinking she was employed? She then does some gardening and bakes a cake - all very un-Buffylike. Except she still has Slayer strength, and breaks the wooden spoon she's using to stir the cake mix - I assume that means she doesn't know she's that strong, and doesn't make allowances for it the way presumably the real Buffy can. I'm reminded of the video Andrew made with Felicia Day - or possibly with Vi - back in Season 8. Also, Buffy holding the stump of the spoon's handle is presumably meant to look like she's holding a stake, but doesn't recognise it.
They set off in Spike's bugship to get back Buffy's body, presumably intending to transfer her mind back into it. Buffy is still devastated at the news; we see her wiping away a tear. It's an important scene for Buffy's character arc. She's just gone through something very stressful, the pregnancy scare, but in her words:
"I was handling it like an adult, Spike. Right? I was realistic, responsible, making the hard choices."
But none of it - in her eyes - was real. It's all just more "bizarre Slayer crap".
She was drifting along in a sea of self-loathing after the end of Season 8, moving apart from her friends, not planning for the future. Finding out she was apparently pregnant forced her to decide what she wanted from life, to confront her problems, and to reach out again to other people for help and advice. It was a salutary shock to make her re-assess her life and her choices. Except now, apparently, it was all a big fake.
Previews of upcoming episodes suggest that after this arc is over, Buffy will react by turning violently against the supernatural and everything not-normal in her life. She will have had enough of bizarre Slayer crap, and want mundane normality - thus fulfilling Spike's characterisation of her to Dowling earlier, which at the time I doubted as not really accurate.
But we all know that however much Buffy tries to escape her destiny as the Chosen One, she never has and never will. She won't be content with 'normal' forever.
This page is also a big Spuffy shippy scene, of course. Buffy starts out with some thoughtless sniping at Spike. As I said to 2maggie2 earlier, I think she's fallen into a rut of doing this whenever they meet, regardless of whether Spike's behaviour justifies it anymore. He's pretty annoyed by it, and rolls his eyes behind her back. In fairness to Buffy, I think she's feeling so lost and inauthentic right now, she's desperate for something familiar and real - even if it means a good session of snarking at Spike again.
But then she goes on to thank him genuinely for being there for her when she needed him, telling him "You know what was real?" - a call-back to 'Intervention' (appropriately enough) and "That was real. I won't forget it." They have a tender hand-holding moment, it's all very romantic.
Andrew, meanwhile, is trying to find out if the bugship has a cloaking device, much to the bugs' confusion. He babbles on about eezo (which is from 'Mass Effect') or stygium (from 'Star Wars'). Both of those are Dark Horse comic franchises, incidentally, and he's wearing a Dark Horse sweatshirt - product placement! Spike gets really seriously angry with him about what he's done to Buffy's emotional stability.
Meanwhile - oh hey, it's Xander! Long time no see!
Although something is clearly wrong with him; he looks downright evil in the mirror as he shouts for Dawn, then bangs the bathroom wall hard enough to break a tile when she doesn't show up straight away. Apparently he got angry when he "didn't know where [Dawn] was". Dawn is taken aback by his impatience and demands, perhaps a little exasperated but seemingly not intimidated. So what's up - some sort of psychological trauma? He's turning into his father? Or something supernatural is going on? I assume we'll find out sooner or later. Of course this is linked to his curious behaviour in 9.01.
Dowling shows up at Dawn's front door, because he needs to talk to somebody about Cheung's death and remembers her and Xander are people who know about vampires. I'm not sure why she thinks he smells of gasoline - he's very drunk, and presumably smells of alcohol, but that's different, surely? Unless someone spiked his drinks with petrol...
Dowling is a rookie detective, but to even reach that position in the first place he'd need to have several years of experience on the streets as a beat cop first - so he must have been exposed to plenty of violence before. They do acknowledge that here; it was the supernatural aspect to Cheung's death that's particularly shaken him, although of course losing your partner to violence of any sort has to be traumatic in itself.
It was dramatic when Dawn and Xander immediately realised from the description that Cheung had been turned into a vampire herslf, even though Dowling didn't recognise the signs. A nice illustration of the difference between Scoobies and muggles. Then we see her rising and slaughtering the poor doctor in the morgue. (Though you'd think mortuary workers, of all people, would know about vampires in the Buffyverse, wouldn't you?)
Buffy finally gets to see the house Andrew set up for her real self, and is flabbergasted. Her fake life is much nicer than her real life, which can't do much for her fragile self-esteem. But then comes the big danger scene as we see someone breaking in to the house! dun dun dun!!
It turns out to be Simone, who's, um, kidnapping Buffy thinking she's the real Buffy when actually the fake Buffy is the real Buffy and the real Buffy is a fake. Or something like that. :)
After the huge revelations of Part 1, Part 2 of this arc is quieter; it's continuing and building up the plot development ready for what will presumably be the big climax later on.
Buffy, Spike and Andrew (and a bug) arrive at the Other!Buffy's house, but Simone has already gone. They check for clues. Buffy continues to angst about how Other!Buffy's fake life is more real than her own, and Spike continues to be angry at Andrew on Buffy's behalf.
The house was furnished with IKEA stuff, which amused me. (At a quick count, there are seven items of IKEA furniture around me in this room right now, plus six from John Lewis, one from Marks and Spencer and one from Allders. Though I'm not a girl-on-a-budget and never have been.) Also, Andrew's budget is clearly much larger than Buffy's.
There's a red liquid stain on the floor which Spike recognises as not blood (easy for a vampire) and also identifies as a Californian Merlot. Andrew points out that Other!Buffy drinks sterotypical drinks as part of the elaborate image he was cosntructing.
Buffy find scratch marks on a wooden worktop and concludes there was a fight here: her real body wasn't quite a helpless victim. Andrew confirms that Other!Buffy didn't know she was the Slayer or have fighting skills, so as to not draw any attention towards herself. On the other hand she would probably have some of Buffy's muscle memories - and of course we already know from last month that she still has Slayer strength even if it's unconscious.
I assume she'd also have a Slayer's instinctive killer instinct and natural aptitude for weapons and fighting even if completely untrained - but the story doesn't raise that at this stage. It might be relevant in the cliffhanger, though.
Buffy is already talking about her other self as a real person. Apart from her, not a part of her. She tried to fight back. She's organised her house. She was maybe planning to have children one day. (Or, I suspect, that's on Buffy's own mind in a big way now and she's reading that into her other self's actions.)
"Buffy, this isn't anyone's real life."
"I don't think she knows that."
This might strike a chord with Buffy because the words echo what the monk told her in Season 5 about Dawn being the Key:
"She's not my sister."
"She doesn't know that."
Buffy has experience of constructed lives becoming real.
Meanwhile, Simone has the other Buffy tied up in a shed and is having a rant at her about how she fails as a Slayer. It seems Simone did know about the existence of both Buffys, and she assumed the one living a nice life in the suburbs is the genuine one and the one slaving away at a minimum-wage job by day and slaying vampires by night is the decoy. Which is actually quite correct, so well done Simone - except she missed the twist that the decoy thinks she's the real Buffy and the real Buffy doesn't know she's a Slayer. Whoops.
Buffy reacts to Simone's accusations by breaking down in tears, promising anything and begging for her life, which is so un-Buffy-like that even Simone eventually realises something is wrong. But we don't find out what she does...
Back to Dawn and Xander, who have agreed to come out of retirement and accompany Dowling back to the police station to deal with Detective Cheung. But they're too late, because apparently she's murdered the entire precinct. That's Fanged Four level of destructiveness; Darla would be impressed, Angelus would feel his manhood challenged, Spike would be envious and Drusilla would be sexually aroused. Not bad for a mindless zompire, even if she is an ex-Marine.
They find a cop who was only injured and blood-drained, not killed. (I did wonder for a moment if she was actually turned and this is a trap - but no, if she were a vampire now she'd be a zompire and unable to talk. Mind you, the last we see of her is Dawn clutching a stake and looking at her in great suspicion: so maybe Dawn reached the same conclusion I did.) She tells them where vamp!Cheung went, and Dowling and Xander go off after her.
There's an interesting scene here where Xander tells Dawn to stay behind. She naturally objects - as she says, she's got far more experience hunting vampires than Dowling has - and for the second time this arc he shouts at her angrily for not doing as he says. We don't get to see how she'd have reacted to this because they're interrupted by the cop recovering consciousness - though I do note that Dawn immediately takes the initiative to call an ambulance on her mobile while the other two are listening to the injured policewoman. She thinks quickly and is practical in a crisis.
After that, Dawn and Xander continue their argument, but the mood has changed: Xander is now using reason rather than intimidation (someone has to stay with the injured woman untl the paramedics arrive) and he also apologises to Dawn for his harsh words earlier. So Dawn stays behind after all - but we can tell she's not happy.
Again, I wonder what's going on. Xander is behaving in a most unpleasant way; I wouldn't say abusive based on this small sample, but it's definitely moving in that direction. I'm reminded of how Xander's own father behaved towards him, as shown in 'Restless' and 'Hell's Bells'. Is this natural character development? (Or 'character assassination', as I'm sure some Xander-fans will be calling it.) Signs of stress from some as-yet-unrevealed problem? Something supernatural affecting him?
As for Dawn, so far she seems to go along with Xander's demands and unreasonable behaviour without too much protest, other than sidelong glances. This immediately get me thinking of the standard tropes of the abused wife - and Dawn is six years younger than Xander, in only her second serious relationship, and thus vulnerable. On the other hand Dawn has never been shown as weak-willed or helpless, and so I'm inclined to think that Xander's odd behaviour is new enough for her not to be too worried by it yet (remember it's been less than a month in the Buffyverse since the start of season 9); or else she knows why he's stressed and thus doesn't take it personally.
Or maybe the spell that sustains her existence as Dawn Summers instead of a ball of glowy green energy is fading now the Seed has broken, and to maintain itself it's now feeding on Xander's soul bit by bit as they sleep together each night. Now there's a nasty idea for a fic. :)
Xander gives Dowling an angry pep-talk about how and why to kill vampires, and we actually get a mention of Jesse! First time in nine seasons?
Buffy, meanwhile, is trying to call Dawn - I assume that Dawn rang asking for her help when they went after Cheung, but Buffy didn't reply due to being otherwise occupied. so Xander and Dwn had to acompany Dowling themselves, and now Buffy its trying to return Dawn's call. Dawn, however, has dropped her mobile into the back of Xander's truck, so doesn't get the call.
We learn that Buffy hasn't told her yet that she's not pregnant after all. I wonder if this whole scene was set up to have Spike's comment that Dawn isn't going to be an auntie... (beat)... yet? Leaving open the possibity for later?
Andrew has found the signal from Buffy's tracer again, and it's coming from Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. (Is 'the Gay Bay' really its nickname?) Buffy is embarrased by the name 'Angel' being mentioned when Spike is standing right there, and Spike in turn gets annoyed by her making a big thing of it.
Next up, Andrew is fitting the Buffybot with a replacement arm - he doesn't have a spare right arm for some reason, so he has to give her a purely mechanical one. He apologises to her for not asking her permission and putting her through so much pain - and I was a little surprised (but pleased) to see that Buffy doesn't accept his apology. That's not how the standard narrative says these things go. She's still angry with him for what he did. She's also pretty insightful into his motivation - still trying to impress Warren after all these years - and that clearly striks home with Andrew.
However, they do finally connect when Buffy want to know why Andrew spent so much effort constructing that elaborate life for the Other!Buffy. People who are into fic-writing or roleplaying games will both understand the appeal of detailed world-building, I suspect; but Buffy doesn't get it. But when Andrew says it's to "give her the life she'd want if she hadn't spent the last however many year saving the world", she is actually touched by that.
I think it's a combination of things that get through to her here. First the fact that he recognises her sacrifice when so many other people take Buffy's world-saving for granted - and even she herself has been so harsh on herself since the Twilight fiasco. But also, the fact that Andrew recognised that Buffy really did want that sort of life for herself - that he feels she deserves to have it. And finally, we can't forget that however stupid and thoughtless and intrusive Andrew was, he did mean well, and he acted purely in what he thought was Buffy's best interest. (At significant personal cost, incidentally; that house and car obviously cost him vast amounts of money).
So Buffy no longer wants to beat Andrew to a pulp, at least, although she still slaps him down when he tries to draw a line under it all. She seems to be grining as she does, though.
Though I assume in the next panel she's angry at the bugs referring to her over the Tannoy as an android. (Or would that be gynoid?)
Back to Xander and Dowling. Xander is not having a good time, though he's determined to see it through. I did wonder at his comment that the smell and the shadows "gets his head buzzing" - is that a clue? They follow the trail of fresh corpses into a bar, where all the patrons are dead - except for the one Cheung is feeding off right now on a side table, but they don't spot her straight away.
Dowling puts down his axe to call for back-up on his mobile - probably standard police procedure, but Xander is annoyed by him letting his guard down and announcing his presence so loudly. Rightly so, as Cheung attacks. The battle is very dramatic: the two of them are no match for her. Xander acts first while Dowling is still reacting in shock, but the ex-Marine/ex-detective/vampire knocks his stake aside then hurls him across the room. She then pounces on Dowling and overpowers him, but Xander gets up again and attacks her with an axe. Once again she defeats his attack, but it distracts her long enough for Dowling to pull out his gun. Unfortunately, as any experienced vampire hunter could have told him, shooting her only makes her mad.
So far Xander has definitely come off the better of the two human in this fight, due to his determination and experience. But while Cheung is grabbing Xander, Dowling finally remembers his training and gets a stake, and dusts his ex-partner. RIP, Detective Miranda Cheung.
I was mildly amused by the way they staged an entire three-page fight against someone who was, at base, a naked woman, without ever showing anything that would get them taken off the shelves at Walmart.
Back to Buffy. She's obviously cheered up a little since she's quipping again - I did smile at the name 'SS Hindenbug'. Spike, on the other hand, insults her travel-planning abilities with a snarky comment: maybe he feels she's less vulnerable now too? I did wonder if the joke was that BART (the San Francisco metro) doesn't actually go to the East Bay area, but apparently it does.
Buffy gets annoyed by Spike being over-protective of her; he responds by leaping dramatically onto a high rock to look around for any sign of the kidnappers, much in the style of Batman. Buffy side-eyes him for this, as you would.
Buffy seems to have settled on referring to "Real me" (the other one) and "Robot me" (the one who's talking). As before, she's starting to think of Real me as an actual person with her own distinct personality. She wants to know about more her.
What we learn is that originally, Real Buffy had only the programmed personality of the Buffybot. But gradually, over the weeks (and remember, less than a month has gone by since this began), she's been acquiring more individuality; even making friends and inviting them over to her house. They're obviously setting up the moral dilemma here that fake-Buffy will have just as much a personality and a right to exist as the real Buffy, whichever body they both happen to inhabit.
And unfortunately, fake-Buffy probably gets the nice house and the car while real-Buffy is stuck as a waitress again. But we'll see.
I think Andrew's cartoony expression with the huge eyes is supposed to show him welling up with tears, perhaps because he's also just realised that his created Buffybot is now a real girl and complications are about to arise. But I'm not sure.
They split up to search for any sign of Real Buffy. Spike ignores Buffy's instruction to "not engage" when he finds what we rcognise as Simonie's van, but it's now empty. Andrew, being genre-savvy, suddenly realises that he's alone at night because his group split up, and assumes he's about to be horribly killed horror-movie style. Buffy finds what she's looking for, because she's the star.
Except that she's hit over the head with a two-by-four wielded by the original Buffy, and knocked unconscious. Or the robot equivalent of unconscious - deactivated?
Real Buffy says she's "been liberated" - and her hair now has purple streaks in it, reminiscent of Simone's purple hair. Has Simone brainwashed her somehow? Or convinced her to follow her willingly, perhaps by claiming that the "other Buffy" was the evil one, manipulating her or trying to steal her life?
Or another alternative is that the mind of the Buffybot inside Real Buffy has become self-aware, and is rebelling against its programming. Like all good robots, it naturally now wants to destroy its creators.
I'm curious to see what happens next...