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(Review) BtVS 8.12 'Wolves at the Gate' Part I

6th March 2008 (15:04)

Well, as I'm sure almost everybody knows by now, 8.12 contained a huge revelation. It's shocking and amazing and everybody should be talking about it... but strangely they aren't. What am I referring to?

Yes. Mr Gordo survived the ruin of Sunnydale!

I don't know if he was on the school bus as they escaped the destruction of the Hellmouth... or whether Buffy went back to rescue him afterwards. Or maybe the brave little fellow managed to get out by himself, which is no mean achievement when you're an inanimate stuffed pig. But there he is, lying on the floor of Buffy's bedroom, large as life.

Well, unless that's a substitute stuffed pig. Mr Gordo the Second. But I'm not going to believe that! I'm not!

Oh yeah, a few other things did happen in this issue too... I'll take them more or less thematically rather than in strict chronological order.



Renee and Xander finally make their relationship official after 11 issues of flirting. It's notable that she is the one taking the initiative; I wonder if she's got a little fed up with Xander finding excuses to spend time with her (it was 'sparring partners' back in 'No Future For You', here it's helping her with guard duty) and wants an actual romantic date. That's backed up at the scene at the end where she's frustrated with them going on a mission in a helicopter together rather than something more hearts-and-flowery.

Of course, there's also the sinister interpretation - if she's a traitor and wants to get close to Xander, she obviously needs to push the agenda along. There's nothing I spotted in this issue to actually support the betrayal theory, but nothing to contradict it either... We do see that Renee is still feeling a little sensitive over the zombie attack in 'The Long Way Home', blaming herself for not sounding the alarm sooner.

Xander seems quite upfront about being attracted to Renee - almost to the point of being weird about it. (Seriously, do you tell your not-quite-maybe-girlfriend that you have fantasies about her and three other women, one of whom is her boss?) Given his past experience and history, it's possible he's gunshy over getting into a serious relationship with anyone again, and is flirting defensively and needs to be pushed.

There's also the fact that Renee in effect works for him, so there's a potential imbalance of power situation here. Clearly not enough to make him turn her down, but perhaps enough for him to hesitate until he's sure it's her choice and not something she feels pressured into. I don't know if this interpretation is valid - there's nothing in the text to support it directly - but it might be something the writers had in the back of their minds when setting up the arc. Or not.

Which brings us nicely to the other big development of this issue: Buffy and Satsu. I have to say, my immediate reaction to seeing that page (you know the one) was "Oh my God, I don't believe Joss actually went there!" Not because I don't think it's in character or flows logically from the preceding story, because I think it does... but because I thought they'd be playing around with subtext and hints for a lot longer. Clearly not. At this point, I'd like to quote the review of the last issue I wrote a month ago:

I don't know where they're heading with all this... but I can see Buffy almost falling into a relationship with Satsu by accident: because she's lonely, and feeling isolated from everybody except the other Slayers; and she likes Satsu and appreciates her supportiveness and is flattered by the attention; and while she's got no sexual interest in her she's not squicked by the idea either; and she feels guilty for not giving Satsu what she wants when Satsu does so much for Buffy... Someone should write the fic.

Well, you don't need to write the fic now, because Drew Goddard just made it canon. :-)

In the 24 hours or so between the news of this going public and me writing this review, I've already seen a lot of analyses of what Buffy is thinking in this scene, and what her motivations are. And so, of course, I'm going to throw in my own...

First, she clearly enjoyed herself. Even more than the opening scene ("Wow. That was... that was... wow.") it's the bit where she says she'll be thinking about tonight and blushing and smiling all the next day that brings it home. (And there's the call-back to 'The Long Way Home' and her remarks about it being a slow year and missing that sex).

Her panic about not doing it right, being out of her depth, was very cute and felt true-to-life. Especially the way she completely forgot Satsu's original question. However, there are a couple of hints here beyond her actual words that Buffy's not exactly hopped the gay train. First, there's the way she's thinking in terms of instruction manuals and being graded on her performance; it implies she wasn't swept along on a wave of lust, she was doing what she thought she was supposed to do in this situation. And secondly, there's her comment about "you did more things than me" which has the same implication: it suggests that Satsu was carried away on that wave of lust I was talking about, and was enthusiastic and really into it in a way that Buffy wasn't. It all sounds very much true to life, the sort of thing that does happen when a basically gay person sleeps with a basically straight one.

A lot of people have taken the attitude that Buffy is using Satsu; that she doesn't love her and is merely taking advantage of her feelings. Comparisons to Spike in Season 6 have been made. However, having now read the comic a couple of times, I'm not sure of that interpretation. I think Buffy is more confused and mixed up than a bald "she's using her" might imply. Take the way she doesn't want Satsu to leave. Her speech about this "not going any further" is prefaced with "I don't know" and "I'm not sure". She doesn't seem to have had an "I'm recently gay" revelation (we could tell that even if Joss hadn't said the same thing in his interview for the New York Times) so she's working from the basic assumption that she and Satsu aren't going to be having a serious relationship - but she also cares deeply about her and doesn't want her to get hurt.

Which makes me wonder how exactly they ended up in bed in the first place. I doubt we'll be told, unfortunately - although judging by the clothes and underwear (and stuffed pig) strewn about the floor, it looks like it was a spontaneous and hasty sort of decision. :-)

Finally, Buffy seems to be maintaining her habit of secrecy about her relationships... although in this case I suspect it's because of the hassle that would be caused if it became known that one of the Slayers was sleeping with the boss, not to mention that perhaps Buffy isn't sure she wants to commit herself to anything public and permanent. Of course, this secrecy is immediately blown out of the water in a very funny sequence (that I'll come back to later.)

As for Satsu, it seems to me that she went into this in the full awareness that it was likely to be just a one-night stand ("I know what this is. I know you didn't just... turn gay all of a sudden"). Even so, when she hears Buffy confirm that out loud, she's upset and downcast and gets up to leave. And she's ever so pleased and grateful when Buffy asks her to stay until morning. She's clearly in love.

Her comment "And you let me. You were amazing" is also very significant. It kind of implies to me that Satsu has been thinking about sex with Buffy for a long time now, but assumed it would never happen... until tonight, when all her fantasies came true. And she's very grateful to Buffy for making that possible... but further down the line, I suspect she might be feeling guilty for using Buffy for sexual gratification when she knew Buffy herself wasn't really into it. And maybe she'll even feel guilty for using Buffy's emotional dependency on her and desire not to hurt her as tools to manipulate her into bed... Just speculation, but Joss's interview did mention that Satsu might regret this evening, and that's a possible reason why.

Her comment about the instruction manuals was funny. I suspect she's speaking from first-hand experience; and I do wonder, based on how Satsu was depicted in the early episodes as shy, reserved and formal, and how the Slayer spell brought her, specifically, "connection" (as shown in the flashback in #11), whether those manuals are her only experience and Buffy is her first lover. Which adds an added poignancy to Buffy's not-quite-rejection/not-quite-acceptance of her.

One last point. It is, of course, a cliché that naked couples in bed will have magic sheets that manage to just cover the important areas, no matter how they move around. In Castle Slayer, of course, the sheets might actually be magical... There's certainly one scene where Satsu has her back to us and is clearly uncovered to the waist, but when we see her again from the side the sheet has crept up to cover her chest without her apparent intervention. :-) At this stage in this sort of discussion, it's also standard to question why a couple who've just had hot, sweaty passionate sex are being so prudish and covering themselves up with sheets in the first place... In this case, I think it's actually a neat bit of characterisation. Buffy is deliberately and obviously holding the sheet over her breasts in several scenes; but Satsu doesn't bother. Clearly they have different comfort factors about what's going on here. (Then again, Buffy has always been fairly modest about showing her body, at least since she left high school.)

Now the French farce scene as everybody for a 10 mile radius comes into Buffy's bedroom. This is really funny; I particularly like the bit where Buffy dives out of bed onto the floor in order to hide from Renee, while Satsu blushes furiously. And poor Buffy keeps ordering people out of her room, but instead more and more come in... you'd think they'd at least knock. (But then again, in 'The Long Way home' everybody just burst into her room when Amy attacked too, so it's consistent).

I've seen various comments around that many of the people who do see the happy couple look disapproving or angry. That's not really the vibe I got, to be honest; I think most of them are just stunned. Dawn is the one who seems most agitated, but then again being shocked and embarrassed by a sister's antics is traditional. Andrew's reaction is perfectly in character for him... and Willow's "I think we're under attack... why are you naked in bed with Satsu?" was also a classic.

Again, people have been ascribing all kinds of emotions to her here, but what I get is mostly stunned disbelief, and perhaps some hurt. After all, Willow is probably the person who's known Buffy more closely for longer than anyone else, with the possible exception of Dawn depending on when you count from. I get the impression that this comes completely out of nowhere for her (and I find it hard to believe that in the 5+ years since Willow came out that she hasn't discussed questions of sexuality with her best friend) and she's reeling in incredulity. Not to mention upset that Buffy hasn't talked to her about it - remember her reaction to finding out about Spike and Buffy in 'Seeing Red' - although in the circumstances she possibly blames herself for putting the distance between them.

I'm hoping that we see various characters discussing the news in Buffy's absence in the next issue...

Anyway, onto the (nominal) A-plot.

There are, of course, no wild wolves in Scotland anymore, and haven't been for centuries. Either Drew Goddard doesn't know that, or it's a subtle bit of characterisation to show that Renee is not a native to Britain, despite her defence of Scottish civilisation later. I'll leave you to judge... We're never told why Andrew is coming to Castle Slayer, although I suspect it's because of the Simone situation we found out about last time. And the fact that poor Dawn is forced to sleep in a barn, with her feet sticking out, is perhaps a reminder as to just how miserable her new life is.

So far we know the names of two of the 'Japanese vampire goth gang' - Kumiko (the woman dressed as Baron Samedi who can fly) and Raidon (the one who turns into a panther and escapes with the Scythe). I assume the one who first takes the Scythe and punches Buffy is the leader; he's clearly both strong and powerful. Whether they're working for themselves or are in league with Twilight is so far unknown.

It was nice to see that Willow wasn't kidnapped again... I'm assuming what happened is that Kumiko somehow cancelled her flying spell, sending her plummeting down through the roof. The fact that Willow was dusting herself off and acting fine after such a brutal fall suggests that her magical self-healing or protection powers were still in full working order, however...

If the castle is in Scotland why didn't the sign on the door say 'Armoury', hmm? Unless Buffy had it fitted after she moved in, not from the original owners of the castle (whoever they were). Notice that even though she's been caught in an incredibly embarrassing situation, Buffy immediately takes charge once she knows they're under attack. That's our Buffy... (Her Eeyore pyjamas and UC Sunnydale crop-top are also quite in character).

I note that Buffy talks about the Scythe as hers, specifically. Faith agreed that it should belong to 'the Slayer in charge', but I've always thought of it as belonging to the Slayer line as a whole. The battle scene in 'Chosen' where it was being passed around from hand to hand reinforced that idea beautifully - so for Buffy to be so possessive about it now it slightly disturbing. Is she becoming even more isolated and elitist? Surely not... In this context, it will be interesting to see what happens if and when she meets Melaka Fray with another Scythe of her very own...

Why do the vampires want the Scythe? Buffy immediately talks about the spell, which implies that somehow the Scythe could be used to de-activate all the other Slayers. I don't know if that's her guess, or an actual fact... if true, it implies that the other girls are not "real Slayers" but only Potentials given a temporary taste of power by magic. That would be... quite disturbing symbolically, actually. I wonder if they'll go there?

Nice to see Leah and Rowena again. It's been a while.

Then there's the realisation about who might be able to give them advice. Xander's reaction was quite fun - was anyone else reminded of the final page of 'The Long Way Home'? And we learn that Xander knows how to pilot a helicopter. That's pretty impressive, actually; they're even harder to fly than normal aircraft.

Did they fly all the way to Transylvania? Or does Dracula live somewhere else now? I notice that his castle apparently has a helicopter landing pad... And of course there's the continuity to episode 5.01 with Xander acting as Renfield... and also to the comic story 'Antiquity', which is now available for free online just so we know what's happened before. I know that the comic has been criticised for implausibility - the idea that Buffy would leave Xander with Dracula for months seems incredible, unless she genuinely didn't know where he was. Or, of course, if he was sending her regular letters telling her how he was doing fine, and the strange European nobleman he was staying with was a nice chap, if a little eccentric... Still, we'll see how much of the story Drew uses.

And one last thing. If the next issue starts with Dracula standing in the doorway and inviting Xander and Renee to "Enter freely and of your own will" I'll be insanely happy. :-)

So. Brian Lynch, the eyes of fandom are upon you. After Buffy and Satsu, it's clearly Spike and Angel's turn now...

.

Comments

Posted by: aycheb (aycheb)
Posted at: 7th March 2008 18:40 (UTC)

I'll buy the scoobies/Giles comparison - they all have power, it's not a simple linear hierarchy (and even those aren't so simple once the lower orders realise they might be the ones with the power a la Checkpoint). So while I think Buffy sleeping with Satsu is unwise in terms of how it might feed feelings of favouritism within the group, I don't think it's morally comparable to General/lieutennant, boss/secretary or supervisor/student relationships.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 7th March 2008 22:18 (UTC)

So while I think Buffy sleeping with Satsu is unwise in terms of how it might feed feelings of favouritism within the group, I don't think it's morally comparable to General/lieutennant, boss/secretary or supervisor/student relationships

Pretty much exactly my own feelings.

And I'll also throw in that when Buffy says "Everyone calls me ma'am" she seems almost bemused by that fact...

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