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(Review) BtVS 9.12 'Guarded' Part II

28th August 2012 (15:26)

So I'm several weeks late with a review of Buffy 9.12 'Guarded' Part 2, but - finally! - here it is. I thought it was a fun issue, if not very deep. It feels a bit monster-of-the-weeky - but not every season arc has to be apocalyptic in nature.

I did also like the exploration of the Buffy-Kennedy relationship (that's relationship in the "two people interacting over time" sense, not the "Buffy/Kennedy as a couple" sense. I really don't think they're going there with it - although as I mentioned last time, there are non-canon 'ships with far less textual backing than these last two issue give this one. ;)) Anyway, I thought Kennedy has matured a lot, and Buffy shows remarkable grace in accepting her (temporary?) leadership.


We start with the profile page of Theo "Zuckerberg" Daniels, founder of 'TinCan'. "Internet for the Soul", as the corporate logo claims, which is clearly a take-off of the old "chicken soup for the soul" books, but with a Buffyverse twist. We learn from his webpage that he disappeared recently (apparently from Prague), he isn't answering his phone, and has at least two friends who are worried about him.

We then see a Chat conversation between two entities, one with sinister red eyes as its avatar which, I assume given what follows, is a Wolfram & Hart Senior Partner. Or possibly just a Junior Partner. The other is a Teuth Demon, also known as a huge tentacle monster which happens to have a PC with an Internet connection. However, its avatar look like two white eyes with a surprised and worried expression; it's almost cute. 

Now we get a reveal that Theo is using his admin access as founder of TinCan to tap into other people's supposedly private messages. I wonder if this has any parallel in real life? :) 

It was interesting to see how Buffy thinks of Wolfram and Hart: "Demon law firm that Angel and Spike were prepared to die to keep out of this realm". Thus proving that she knows about the events of the end of 'Angel' Season 5, and she views them through the lens of what Angel and Spike (equally) thought about them. She doesn't mention Gunn, Wesley or Illyria who were also prepared to die, but to be fair she didn't really know any of them. 

The interpretation of how Season 5 ended is also interesting. Some people criticise Angel's plan in 'Not Fade Away' as a self-indulgent and merely token gesture that did more harm than good. I've always thought that's a misreading of it, and Buffy's words here seem to support that. Yes, we were told that nothing Angel and his team do can *permanently* keep the Senior Partners away from humanity, because humanity's inherent imperfections will always call them back eventually. But 'eventually' is never defined; and while it might mean "next week", it could equally mean "ten thousand years from now". When you're a billion+ years old immortal, human lifespans are as trivial as mayflies' lives are to us. Buffy's comment about "keeping them out of this realm" suggests she agrees it was a worthwhile thing to do, with consequences that, on a human scale, are worthwhile.

Buffy has also heard that the Senior Partners were "dimension-hopping" right before the end of Season 8. This is actually a reference to Brian Lynch's 'Spike' miniseries for IDW (which, by the way, is now finally out as a collected trade paperback, so I've actually been able to read it). For those who don't know, Wolfram & Hart captured an interdimensional space cruiser crewed by aliens in order to make their escape from this dimension, because they had advance warning of Twilight's plans. The alien leader was killed in the fighting, but Spike was able to rally the survivors and lead them to the escape shuttle. This smaller ship is spaceworthy, but not capable of interdimensional travel. And that's where Spike's bugs come from, and why they're loyal to him. 
Buffy must have heard that story from Spike himself, in an off-camera conversation - which if nothing else is proof that they have more interaction than is actually shown on the page!

Meanwhile, Theo confesses that his social network uses demon technology (as opposed to magic). He made a deal with Wolfram and Hart a few years back - foolishly but innocently - where they gave him cash in return for making their own additions to his software. He only recently realised that this now allows people  - including the Senior Partners - to connect to TinCan even from the hell dimensions.

I was amused by the easter egg that one of the Japanese soft toy demons that Kennedy fought last season in 'Swell' was shown to have a TinCan account.

We get the plot set-up explained to us. Theo tried to delete the W&H code from the system, but failed. His only option now is to burn the house down around him: destroy his own company a month before it floats on the stock exchange. Just to make it even trickier - and I'm glad they mentioned this - it won't only be Theo that suffers loss from doing so: all the millions of users of the website will lose all their data too.

The comparison to the final episode of Angel Season 5 just got even more pointed. Buffy, of course, never flinches from a sacrifice if she thinks it's for a worthwhile cause. She therefore takes the attitude that leaving the Big Bad free to rampage unchecked is unacceptable, and so the price is worth paying. The servers should be destroyed. Theo sadly agrees.

Kennedy agrees too, and I like that she gets to be the adult voice of practicality here - "Our company can't be connected with this" - before deciding to do it anyway, off the books. I've always seen Kennedy as being very close to Buffy in terms of her willingness to take action when it's needed, whatever it takes - I think it's why Buffy seems to get on pretty well with Kennedy on the whole despite her abrasive personality. Though as we see later, Kennedy is accepting the mission as given to her, but doesn't necessarily agree with its objective herself.

A quick cut-away to the demon infiltrating the TinCan facility in order to "protect the W&H investment" - I assume it knows Theo will come there, and is waiting to ambush him. Buffy and Kennedy are watching it from a safe distance, however. It's interesting that Buffy is able to identify what kind of demon it is at first sight. Giles would be proud of her: she's obviously been studying a lot recently. Perhaps in contrast to Kennedy's "ex-Slayers" whom Buffy is quite dismissive of - they've "had every Slayer instinct drilled out of them." That calls back last month's episode when Buffy's own Slayer instincts misled her during the bodyguard 'training' mission.

Considering he never appears in this arc, Spike sure does get mentioned regularly. Kennedy doesn't seem very impressed by Buffy's connection to him, which is a good call-back to her attitude in season 7 when she thought Buffy was losing the mission because of her over-focus on Spike. However, here she doesn't seem hostile so much as teasing, or possibly eye-rolling; anyway, Buffy doesn't take offence.

Buffy's plan is intead to recruit Eldre Koh to help them fight the Teuth demon, since he owes her a favour. Buffy doesn't come across very creditably here, I'm afraid. She's basically manipulating Koh's sense of honour in order to get him to do what she wants. This will come back to bite her in the bum later. We also hear that Koh is trying to track down the entity - which he calls 'the Beast' - who was responsible for his original imprisonment. That has 'future plot hook' written all over it, and some people are speculating that it will turn out to be Illyria. 

I smiled at the brief exchange about Koh being cute "if you're into that sort of thing", which Buffy seems to take to be a barbed reference to her well-known sexual history of involvement with demons, here as in fact Kennedy was referring to the 'male' bit rather than the 'demon' bit. In fact, this whole scene between Buffy and Kennedy has a lot of interesting subtext to it, contrasting their styles.

We see them equipping themselves with weapons before the fight. Kennedy's main weapon is a pistol - which makes the fic I wrote about her giving Buffy firearms training seem prescient - and she's also carrying grenades. (Jayne would approve). However, she also gives a nod to Slayer tradition by bringing a mediaeval melee weapon as well - to be specific, a Japanese sword carried on her back. That was Satsu's trademark last season, and I like the idea that Kennedy picked up the style from Satsu when she went to Japan in 'Swell'. Buffy, on the other hand, is using a more familiar weapon: a battleaxe. (With two blades; in other words, it's a labrys.) While Buffy's views on guns are well-known, she doesn't even make a sarcastic comment here about Kennedy's modern aresenal; she's all business-like. Given what comes later, I read that as a sign of respect.

Now Kennedy suggests that destroying TinCan might be a bad idea, because even though it's currently being used for harm (letting the Senior Partners access our dimension), maybe it could also be used for good - letting magic back into our dimension? Specifically, maybe it could help Willow get her powers back? It's very typical of the show that the focus of the scene for both of them is not the mechanics of magic and dimensions, but the emotional questions underlying them - the fact that Kennedy still cares about Willow despite their relationship ending; and Buffy being sympathetic, but also not wanting to raise Kennedy's hopes about a possible reconciliation. It looks like Buffy is putting her hand on Kennedy's shoulder to comfort her in one of the frames. Kennedy shows that she's not only thinking about Willow: she's also concerned about Buffy herself, and clearly feels she's been unfairly treated by the other people blaming her for ending magic.  (Interesting side-note: one of those 'other people' was of course Willow herself. So does that mean before they broke up, Kennedy listened to Willow ranting about Buffy ending magic but sympathised with Buffy? Either secretly or, knowing Kennedy, openly and tactlessly. Hmmm.)

We've never seen Buffy and Kennedy interact much on the show before. But consider their apparent closeness here, their interactions last month - and for that matter, their conversation back in Season 8 issue 40 when Buffy had apparently dropped in at Kennedy's house after work; and the fact that Kennedy left her company's business card at Buffy's workplace, which obviously mean she's familiar with it. It all adds up to the implication that they've become friends rather than just colleagues over the last year or so. I approve - it reminds me of Buffy befriending Tara back in Season 6 after Tara split up with Willow.  (I also like the more Season 8-eque way of showing this through indirect hints and clues rather than the more in-your-face season 9 style. It's like old days.)

I also loved Kennedy taking charge of the operation, and dividing the others into teams and giving them their instructions. I actually had to read that bit twice, because the whole assertive leadership thing is Buffy's style, and it took me a moment to realise that here Buffy was the one being given the orders. Not only that, but she calls Kennedy ma'am, and she beats Koh with the chain of command when he seems to question it, emphasising that Kennedy is a Slayer too. I have a lot of respect for Buffy accepting their changed roles with such good grace. She used the Scythe to empower other Slayers, and here Kennedy is behaving exactly as Buffy thinks a Slayer should: decisive and in command. I do suspect that Buffy has internal misgivings, though. It can't be easy for her to play second fiddle to anyone, and her comment to Koh about "knowing when to pick your battles" might well apply to her as well as him. She thinks this is the wrong moment to get into an alpha-female headbutting contest with Kennedy.

It's definitely worth pointing out, though, that Kennedy shows no triumphalism or arrogance in her leadership style here. She's giving orders to Buffy, but she's neither revelling in it nor rubbing Buffy's nose in her subordination. She's all business. And in fact, we see her deferring to Buffy's expertise in identifying the Teuth demon and choosing to ally with Koh; and asking Buffy's advice on the moral advisability of their mission. It's a subtle indication that although Kennedy is bristling with self-confidence and knows her job thoroughly, she's also three years younger than Buffy, and respects her a lot.

Anyway, the heroes head into the TinCan building: and we get the big fight scene, with lots of tentacles. Buffy manages to get herself grabbed by a tentacle early on, which I'm moderately confident is because she was having to escort Theo by herself, while Kennedy and Koh are both superpowered fighters and concentrating only on fighting. The art manages to avoid the more obvous hentai tentacle porn clichés, I'm happy to say: though I suppose the comparison is inevitable. We're shown that the Senior Partners can hear and see the fight, which will be important later.

Kennedy finally kills the Teuth demon with a grenade - so it's good we saw her hooking several to her belt earlier. (Chekov's grenade?) Released from the tentacles that had captured him and Buffy, Theo goes up to the lever that will destroy the servers asn thr link to the dermon dimensions. He has the inevitable crisis of conscience over doing it, and Buffy clearly sees the similarity to her breaking the Seed. The server room is even illuminated in red, which calls back the glowing red light of the Seed chamber.

The main issue here is that Theo will be "destroying what I worked so hard to build" - so it seems Buffy's biggest concern is less with ending magic in general, but specifically with the fact that no more Slayers are being Called, and so the Slayer Army she worked so hard to build has now collapsed again. The remaining Slayers are left without purpose - unless, like Kennedy's employees, they can start new lives that have nothing to do with what Buffy was trying to do. But despite that, Buffy thinks that sacrificing your life's work, and being blamed for being selfish because of it, is still worth it to keep "their brand of evil our of our world".

And then we get the surprise twist. Koh comes up by surprise, grabs Theo - and offers to the Senior Partners to kill Theo and thus save TinCan if in return Wolfram and Hart will identify the Beast who imprisoned him. Buffy is shocked by such a betrayal. Koh explains to her - I suspect that if this were voice-acted, his tones would drip with condescension - that she knows nothing about the Nitobe code. In fact, his honour demands this action if it will bring him closer to his vengeance; repaying the favour he owes Buffy comes a long way second to that.

In other words, Buffy's less-than-honourable action in bullying Koh to help her - despite her earlier refusal to help him - has come back to haunt her. And we end on a cliffhanger! Oooh.


Comments

Posted by: erimthar (erimthar )
Posted at: 28th August 2012 15:54 (UTC)

You're alive!

I agree that Kennedy comes off very well here, and in her earlier appearances this season. She seems to have matured a lot... in some places, she seems more mature than Buffy. I'm glad she's not pining endlessly for Willow, and spiting Buffy over it.

The comment about the Senior Partners "dimension hopping" was a pretty deft way to explain away one of the biggest continuity questions from the Spike miniseries... i.e., since the Senior Partners don't live in this dimension, why would they have any need to escape it?

This suggests that they were here to make sure everything went smoothly with their infiltration of TinCan, and they didn't trust their underlings to take care of the job.

If I were Buffy, I would deal with Koh's betrayal by promising him that if he kills Theo, she will attack him with deadly intent, thus forcing him to either be killed, or kill her... which would permanently stain his honor, since he still owes his freedom to her.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath )
Posted at: 28th August 2012 17:26 (UTC)
kennedy

I might be alive. I might also be undead - did you think of that? :)

Agreed that Kennedy has matured a lot; I don't think she's more mature than Buffy, though. She's self-confident and self-possessed, but then again she always was: the change now is that she's less abrasive and in-your-face about it. but she still seems to look up to Buffy and trust he judgement when it comes to Slaying, and I get a distinct, "It's because you're older and wider than me" vibe from it.

***

Do the Senior Partners live in another dimension? Our own Earth was their 'home office', after all; and they have a history with Illyria, who is from Earth. I suspect the answer might be that they're actually from several different planes, rather than having a single point of origin.

(It's never made clear whether the Senior Partners and the Wolf, the Ram and the Hart are the same thing, is it? Perhaps the W, R & H were the original founders of the firm, but you can become a Senior Partner through promotion and service, and so it's a larger group than the original three founders.)

Posted by: erimthar (erimthar )
Posted at: 28th August 2012 18:42 (UTC)

I can't be 100% certain there are only 3 Senior Partners, but I definitely go by that assumption. They don't seem like the types to allow new people into their inner circle.

I specifically remember Lindsey McDonald telling Angel that the Senior Partners don't live in this dimension (can't remember which episode). I don't know if that's because they were somehow barred from entering in person, or because it was simply safer to either stay away or visit only in a "meat suit," as one of them did in "Reprise."

Kennedy may not be more mature than Buffy, but she's probably more centered at the moment. Buffy took a job, then immediately disobeyed orders in a way that could have gotten her client, herself, or both killed; then disobeyed orders again to go patrolling; and Kennedy was nothing but understanding that Buffy is in a fragile emotional state and this business of taking directions is new to her.

She showed similar traits last season in her dealings with Satsu. I think the Chloe incident probably burned away a lot of her self-described brattiness.

Posted by: 2maggie2 (2maggie2 )
Posted at: 28th August 2012 19:14 (UTC)

I can't get all that interested in this stuff, so I kind of skimmed. But two comments:

That Buffy gives Angel's spin on the end of AtS only means that she's giving Angel's spin -- not that it's some objective report of what was going on there. She's at least somewhat mistaken since she seems to think the aim was to kick W&H out, without any sense of at least for a while (or 10,000 years). I think NFA is pretty clear it's all symbolic. See Gunn's conversation with Anne, for example.

Second comment is I do share your take about Buffy's less than honourable actions with Koh biting her in the arse. I liked that, and I take the tension between corporatism and honor codes to be a key theme of this arc.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath )
Posted at: 28th August 2012 19:50 (UTC)
angel

The way I interpret the conversation with Anne is - well, let's say you're concerned about violence against women. Anne's solution is to run a refuge to help the victims of crime. Angel's solution is to become a detective and go out hunting down serial rapists.

Angel's plan certainly won't do anything to end misogyny and patriarchy in our society forever - and maybe there are elements of masculine power fantasy about it. But even so, every sex offender he catches means a finite but genuine reduction in the number of crimes committed. Anne's solution will make life better for the victims; but it won't reduce their number in the slightest.

Which of them is the hero here? I think "both of them, in different ways" is a very valid answer; but I don't think we're meant to conclude that Angel is wrong.

As for Buffy: my take on her character is that she takes it for granted that "beating the bad guy forever" actually means "for now, until it comes back in the sequel." She's totally genre-savvy.

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