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(Review) BtVS TotV: The Thrill

6th June 2009 (01:05)

'The Thrill' isn't really part of the Season 8 storyline - it has no issue number, and none of the regular characters are even mentioned - but after some consideration I decided to review it anyway. So here we go...


So, we start off in a tiny, boring American town where the only things open at night are an arcade and the 7-11. Our 'hero', Jacob, is a teenage emo kid who feels that his life is empty and meaningless, possibly because he spends most of his time at the arcade and has no friends. He also smokes, which is proof he'll come to a bad end.

Jacob meets May, a cool chick who has her own pick-up truck and wears sunglasses at night. Jacob, naturally enough, is smitten. So, apparently, is May. This could mean that she notices that Jacob actually has the potential to be a nice guy, or maybe she's only a predator looking to seduce him, or maybe she's just really, really bored. Then we get the set-up for the tragic love triangle which will shape this episode: Jacob's (only) friend, Alex. She's glad to see him; he gives her the brush-off and wanders off leaving her behind. She looks less than impressed by that.

Now we get to the meat of the issue; Jacob offering to let Sebastian the vampire feed off him. This is played completely as a drugs metaphor, with Sebastian as the pusher - as compared to 'Listening To Fear' where the metaphor was prostitution. The contrast to the usual Buffyverse set-up is apparent; here a human is trying to persuade a reluctant vampire to bite him. Note that Alex is aware (and disapproves) of what he's doing with the vampire; and Sebastian has already fed on someone else that night - so it's clear everyone in town knows about what he is.

Notice, though, that when Jacob arrives home  - apparently bathed in sweat and looking paler than before - he tells his mother indignantly that he's "not on drugs". Well, not as such.

Jacob dreams of a half-naked Alex coming into his bed... and then she turns into a vampire. I'm interpreting this as Jacob's urges having got all mixed up. The only thrill he feels now is when he gives himself to a vampire, and so his subconscious is presenting his sexual attraction to Alex through a filter of vampirism. Buffy complained that for vampires, sex and death are two sides of the same coin; it seems that Jacob, despite being human, has had his own psyche perverted in the same way already.

However it happened, Jacob has realised he likes Alex, and next morning he asks her for a date. She seems pretty pleased at the idea, and agrees readily. Considering that later on she complains about May "stealing Jacob form her", it's clear she's already in love with him and presumably overjoyed he finally asked her out. Even the colours of the page are warmer and different to the rest of the comic.

But then that night Jacob discovers that doing deals with evil soulless monsters is not always the safest of choices. Sebastian may be happy to feed off humans without killing them as a rule, but as soon as one of those humans tries to defy him, he goes into a rage and beats Jacob to death.

Except that he wakes up again, naked in bed with May. While this is presented in a similar fashion to his dream of Alex, it seems like it's real - at least, May really was in bed with him, and when we next see her she's just getting dressed again. Incidentally, it looks like the bloodstained vampire teeth in the fourth panel on this page are Jacob's, not May's, since her face and hair is shown off to the side - but in the next panel Jacob has no blood on his mouth. Presumably it's a miixture of dream, memory and reality.

May apparently really did save Jacob because she liked him. She gives him the Vampire 101 (in a scene that reminded me strongly of the 'Vampire:the Masquerade CRPG tutorial segment), then takes him back to the arcade to feed on his first victim. At first I thought said victim was Alex, but it's a different girl - I also assume she survives this experience given what Jacob says in his voice-over. Jacob assumes that the girl he feeds off has the same motivation as he used to; looking for a thrill to liven up her empty, meaningless life. (Given the way she looks at him, I'm wondering if "wow, he's hot" might have more to do with why she follows him outside - like Jesse in 'The Harvest', being turned seems to have turned the dorky guy into someone cool and dangerously sexy.)

As for Jacob, the bloodlust of feeding, and the fact that he is the one taking action and affecting other people, make him feel something for the first time in his life. But then he meets Alex - naturally worried and angry at being stood up for her date - and of course being undead he no longer feels any love for her. He's more interested in playing buddy-buddy with Sebastian, except that - as we'll soon learn - he plans to dust him in revenge for his own death. The old Jacob would never have done anything so decisive.

Note that Alex here puts into words what nobody else does - that vampires are soulless killers who regard humans as just food. She's angry, brave or foolish enough to confront Sebastian directly... note that nobody in this town seems to be afraid of vampires any more. Alex also mentions "that stupid reality show" as being responsible for making people think vampires are safe - pretty much the only direct reference to Season 8 canon in the issue. Jacob's mother seems just as blind to the dangers vampires present; she quickly adjusts to her son's new circumstances, moves his room into the basement and jokes about him not eating salad any more. "You're still my little boy."

The single most chilling moment of the issue was Jacob idly musing if he should kill his mother, then deciding he can't be bothered.

But despite becoming a vampire, Jacob's routine hasn't really changed. He still feels empty inside - probably because he's still not actually doing anything with his (un)life, or connecting with any people.

Finally, we get the big face-off as Alex meets May and discovers she's a vampire. It's also revealed that Alex is a Slayer... and that she carries a stake around with her. The people watching the confrontation - and I'm not clear if they're humans or vampires - apparently do know what a Slayer is, but treat it as a term of abuse... or possibly as a generic word for "someone who kills  poor, innocent vampires". However, notice that Alex doesn't kill May for being a vampire - she never did anything to hurt Sebastian before, despite knowing exactly what he was - she kills her out of jealous rage over Jacob.

Alex then sobs that she "never wanted to be a Slayer", she "just wanted a normal life". She clearly sees being a Slayer as a bad thing - not surprising, considering the reaction of those around her to the revelation. However, I should point out that until this reveal, a normal life was exactly what she was having. She was going to school, hanging out with her friends. Nobody knew she was a Slayer, nobody was trying to kill her; and equally, she wasn't going after vampires. True, she tried to persuade Jacob not to let Sebastian feed off her, but she apparently made no attempt to kill him. It seems that for Alex, "being a Slayer" was just a guilty secret she hid from those around her, because she was afraid they'd hate her for it, but it had no actual effect on her life until she chose, finally, to act.

But it only takes her so far. She does nothing to resist Jacob when he bites her; overcome with grief, self-loathing or an unwillingness to hurt him, she just passively accepts her fate.

A furious Jacob tells Alex that "Vampires don't hurt people... drunk drivers are more of a threat than we are." Considering that his next action is to kill her, I think his assurances lack credibility. He then offers to turn her, but we don't know whether or not she accepts. (Thus leaving open the canon question as to whether Slayers can be turned, and whether the vampires they become have any special powers.) As for Jacob, killing his only friend feels like "coming to life" - he finally knows what he wants from life, and ends his passivity in favour of becoming a soulless killer.

So that's the story. There is an intresting parallel to be drawn to the Slayer organisation, where the theme of "connection" and "family" between all the Slayers who aren't Buffy is being strongly emphasised. Jacob, the loner who drives his friends away, ends up throwing away his life in a meaningless search for thrills... but then discovers that power over other people, affecting others' lives, can be intoxicating. You can compare that to Buffy in S7 and S8, perhaps. The other theme is the importance of taking action. Alex acted to kill May, but then retreated back into passivity. Jacob spends the whole episode passively drifting from event to event, moving through life without touching it... except for the brief moments when he actually feels connection to people and acts to affect their lives, which ar the only times he feels any happiness.

Finally, a word about what's happening regarding the whole season arc. It's been hinted that the sudden worldwide acceptance of vampires is not entirely natural, and that Twilight is involved with it somehow. This issue does a good job of showing how ordinary people now see the undead. They're exotic and glamorous, and (so people think) offer enough danger to be thrilling without actually being a real threat. In Jacob's words, you're in more danger from a drunk driver. Not everybody actively seeks out vampires; they appeal more to the disaffected, the lonely, the outsiders; but even someone as reassuringly normal as Jacob's mum doesn't seem particularly alarmed to discover her son is now a vampire.

As for the vampires themseles, the ones we've seen seem to have adapted fairly quickly to the new situation. Ones like May are teaching their fledglings the rules on how to get by wihtout alarming the humans into taking extreme measures. The vampires' essential nature hasn't changed - as we saw with Sebastian, they're still arrogant, ruthless killers - but they're also adaptable enough and know when they've got a good thing going on.

It's interesting that the only person who we're shown not accepting the vampires at all is Alex... who turns out to be a Slayer rather than a normal human. This suggests to me that magic is involved somehow, probably linked to Harmony's TV show. (Remember how the puppets in 'Smile Time' were using their TV show to enchant children? Same kind of deal.) Humans are being subtlely induced to view vampires as perfectly normal and acceptable. Slayers, and other people with supernatural powers, are immune to the spell... which might be why Twilight wants to get rid of them. (Or it might just be that the spell isn't aimed at them because Twilight needs them as a scapegoat and threat, which wouldn't work if the Slayers were also "yay vampires!".)


 

Comments

Posted by: 2maggie2 (2maggie2)
Posted at: 6th June 2009 00:59 (UTC)

All very interesting. Not surprisingly, I have to respond to the bit about Alex's normal life. Having a guilty secret and hiding who you are from people is not having a normal life. And apparently there was something in her that led her to out herself, very much to her detriment. I agree it's a spontaneous reaction of jealousy. But it ends up killing her, and if she hadn't been a slayer her sponaneous reaction of jealousy would have taken (presumably) a much less lethal form. Was that the bottled up slayerness forcing itself out? Simply a reflection of the fact that she hasn't learned to discipline her powers? Either way she's not a normal girl leading a normal life.

She has a final chance to save it by renouncing her slayerness (saying she won't kill Jacob), but she doesn't manage to do it. It's possible she's overwhelmed in the moment and simply can't make a response that would save her life. Or it's possible that she's realizing that as a slayer she can't pretend to lead a normal life, i.e. can't deny her slayerness to Jacob in an effort to save herself.

Alex pretty much illustrates how I think the slayer spell has worked. The option to remain "normal" is actually the option to fake being normal... living in the the closet with all the fear and pain associated with having to lie about yourself to others. There's also at least a hint that the slayer power won't let itself be kept under wraps indefinitely.

And she ends up dead. Like Soledad. Have we seen a single good outcome for a slayer who has decided to remain "independent"? That slayer spell has an awful lot of dark clouds. Rogue slayers, insane murderous slayers, slayers on the run, dead slayers. Seems to me like the overwhelming evidence is that at best the slayer spell was a mix of good and bad.

Posted by: aycheb (aycheb)
Posted at: 6th June 2009 09:35 (UTC)

I don't think anyone's been seriously arguing that the slayer spell was all good other than those using that as a straw man position. The standard comparisons are with voting rights (which from an individual point of view confer power but also responsibility) and democracy (which includes the freedom to choose bad things). Alex's narrative doesn't exist in isolation, the issue also depicts normal life in the post Harmony world and the overall point seems to be that 'normal' in the sense of ignoring the existence of vampires isn't an option. If Alex weren't a slayer would she have been joining Jacob in the arcades, egging on the killing like the bystanders at her death or living in fear for of or of her son like Jacob's mother? Sooner or later you have to make a choice.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 6th June 2009 10:35 (UTC)

Having a guilty secret and hiding who you are from people is not having a normal life

It is for many people. But that comes down to whether you think that the [Potential] Slayer power was something inerent but suppressed in these women that Willow's spell awakened, or something forced on them from outside. But we've already had that discussion...

I will say, though, that Alex having to hide her Slayerness, and be ashamed of it, is a product of Harmony's show and, possibly, Twilight's magical manipulation - not an inherent feature of Slayerness. Metaphorically speaking, Slayerphobia is society's problem, not Slayers' problem.


the overwhelming evidence is that at best the slayer spell was a mix of good and bad.

Can't you say the same thing about any major change to the world?

Posted by: erimthar (erimthar)
Posted at: 6th June 2009 01:37 (UTC)
pic#89543843

I was most struck by how the story... especially the last page... drew the parallel between vampires and rapists... "it's not about her choice, it's about mine."

Vampires are the quintessential sociopathic rapists... making everyone else's "choices" subservient to their own.

What this issue didn't do for me is make it any more plausible that *all* of humanity seems to be blindly accepting vampires despite the fact that they're still killing on a regular basis. (Jacob's decision on whether or not to kill his mother could have easily gone either way.)

I agree that there must be some kind of large-scale magic involved... some kind of wide-ranging perception changing magic like that carried out in the past by the Order of Dagon (re: Dawn), Jasmine, the Smile Time puppets, Jonathan in "Superstar", Wolfram & Hart in removing L.A. from the world's thoughts, etc.

Spells of this type seem to be worrisomely easy to come by...

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 6th June 2009 10:48 (UTC)

I'm kind of going backwards and forwards on whether there actually is magic involved, or if it's just a cynical comment on the readiness of most people to believe what we see on TV.

I think depictions of vampires in Western culture going back to Stoker or Lefanu have alternated between vampires-as-rapists and vampires-as-seducers. Vampirism can be seen as a metaphor for awakening the dark, passionate urges that many people try to keep suppressed. And the greater sexual openness of the 21st century, as opposed to the 19th, explains why the rape metaphor is overtaking the seduction metaphor - since not as many people care about suppressing such urges these days... but Spiike & Buffy in Season 6 can certainly be seen as a modern-day retelling of Dracula and Lucy Westenra.

Posted by: erimthar (erimthar)
Posted at: 6th June 2009 13:49 (UTC)
pic#89543843

Unless you're Samuel Beckett, though, usually cynical social commentary shouldn't come at the expense of plausibility (within the context of the mileu's own established fantasy rules, of course.)

When asked about this a few months ago, Scott Allie answered "There may be demons involved. Magic too, in some cases." But it was hard to say if he meant that as a serious answer, or if he was just poking fun at the question and the idea of asking for real-life plausibility in a fantasy story.

Posted by: Barb (rahirah)
Posted at: 6th June 2009 01:45 (UTC)

I think this exemplifies the problems with the "everybody loves vampires now" arc - yes, a certain percentage of people will think they're glamorous and sexy. But another percentage of people are going to notice that dead bodies keep piling up around them. We're basically being asked to accept that everyone in the world except Buffy and Co. are really, really stupid. I could suspend my disbelief when the Mass Stupidity Aura only extended over Sunnydale, but when it's supposed to extend over the whole world, it's a lot harder to buy.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 6th June 2009 10:54 (UTC)

People never noticed the dead bodies previously, though - and presumably there are less of them than before, since at least some vampires have decided, like May, to play the game.

So instead of being in denial about the very existence of the supernatural, people are 'only' in denial that not all vampires are Edward Cullen glamorous and sexy-dangerous rather than actually-dangerous. Seems like an improvement.

I could suspend my disbelief when the Mass Stupidity Aura only extended over Sunnydale, but when it's supposed to extend over the whole world, it's a lot harder to buy.

But surely the "Sunnydale forgettyitis" explanation was blown out of the water the moment they filmed 'City Of'? It's not just Sunnydale; a huge city like Los Angeles is also teeming with vampires, the DA has his own shamans on call, nobody finds it strange that the sun goes out over the city... Whatever it is that makes people try to rationalise away the supernatural, or just not talk about it, it applies to all of humanity, not just Sunnydale.

Posted by: Barb (rahirah)
Posted at: 6th June 2009 13:07 (UTC)

And the more people it's supposed to apply to, the more I can't buy it. I know Joss doesn't give a damn about coherent worldbuilding, but I do. If humanity acknowledges the existence of then supernatural, then there's going to be a huge difference of opinion between different groups of humans as to whether it's good, bad, or indifferent. That's just basic human nature.

Posted by: Emmie (angearia)
Posted at: 6th June 2009 02:19 (UTC)

It'd be pretty hilarious to have it turn out to be magic that's the reason the world is accepting vampires. All to further cut Buffy off from her moorings - humanity. And quite a fast one to pull on the fandom.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 6th June 2009 10:57 (UTC)

Well, so far the evidence is mostly from your Q&A sessions with Scott Allie rather than textual evidence (his hints that yes, Twilight is involved), although the fact that only the Slayer seems to be questioning the concept of friendly vampires does seem suggestive.

It could be that there's no magic, it's just a cynical commentary on people's willingness to believe anything they see on TV... and Twilight's agents control MTV, which is how Harmony got her show in the first place.

Posted by: aycheb (aycheb)
Posted at: 6th June 2009 11:20 (UTC)

I think there may well be magic involved in the public acceptance of vampires but it feels as if it’s working with tendencies that are already there rather than imposing something completely alien on an innocent public. I also think it makes sense that changing the world may have had a Darwinian side effect on vampire behaviour. We've been shown that both parasite and predator strategies exist amongst vampires (and even Angelus and Darla seemed to prefer to be covert predators and not attract too much attention to their activities). Staying away from slayers was relatively easy when there was only one but now there are hundreds and from the infrequency of them being called out to take down vampire nests it would seem all too possible that most of the predator types have been dusted and the rest have adapted.

Combine that process of unnatural selection with the media Powers that Be pushing the vampire point of view that they're no more dangerous than drunk drivers (and as far as the general public knows or believes vampires are just like us apart from the diet and the immortality so turning wouldn't count as killing). The traditional slayer strategy then becomes as futile as the war on drugs with the real enemy is no longer the drugs/vampires but the disconnection that draws humans to them. If only the sense of connection not!Buffy described in The Chain were communicable (and I think it's interesting to compare her final scene with that of Alex). Maybe death is no longer their sole gift but how much does the sense of connection come from having a common purpose, an enemy to slay? Also they’re connected to each other, Buffy is connected to her family but that very connection is distancing them from humanity as a whole. I don’t know how they’re might resolve these contradictions or if it’s even possible but it could be interesting.

Posted by: chianazhaan (chianazhaan)
Posted at: 10th July 2011 22:47 (UTC)
(Review) BtVS Tales of the Vampires: The Thrill

I like your review. The comic itself less so.

Alex then sobs that she "never wanted to be a Slayer", she "just wanted a normal life". She clearly sees being a Slayer as a bad thing - not surprising, considering the reaction of those around her to the revelation. However, I should point out that until this reveal, a normal life was exactly what she was having. She was going to school, hanging out with her friends. Nobody knew she was a Slayer, nobody was trying to kill her; and equally, she wasn't going after vampires. True, she tried to persuade Jacob not to let Sebastian feed off her, but she apparently made no attempt to kill him. It seems that for Alex, "being a Slayer" was just a guilty secret she hid from those around her, because she was afraid they'd hate her for it, but it had no actual effect on her life until she chose, finally, to act.

Seems to have an X-Men theme to it, doesn't it? But it answers a question (if it's considered canon) about the life of a slayer. Apparently, Alex was able to live a normal life, until she announced she was a slayer though her actions.

And I wonder if the vampires (humans) conclude that Alex is a slayer solely based on the fact she could fight and win against a vampire. Because I doubt that a normal human can do that (except the ones in Sunnydale of course). In fact, as you remarked upon, the vampires don't seem to like 'no' for an answer.

It's interesting that the only person who we're shown not accepting the vampires at all is Alex... who turns out to be a Slayer rather than a normal human. This suggests to me that magic is involved somehow, probably linked to Harmony's TV show. (Remember how the puppets in 'Smile Time' were using their TV show to enchant children? Same kind of deal.) Humans are being subtlely induced to view vampires as perfectly normal and acceptable. Slayers, and other people with supernatural powers, are immune to the spell... which might be why Twilight wants to get rid of them. (Or it might just be that the spell isn't aimed at them because Twilight needs them as a scapegoat and threat, which wouldn't work if the Slayers were also "yay vampires!".)

While interesting, I don't think this can be regarded as being true, because we haven't seen one piece of evidence to support it. Although it could explain some plot-related problems, it also means that nobody (not even Willow) noticed a problem which isn't any easier to accept. In fact, it's easier to assume that someone said: "I wish vampires were regarded as..." and insert your 21st century vampire book on the dots.

Still, if the writers can't be bothered to provide evidence for it, I'm going to take the story as it's written.

I'm wondering if this could also be related to the financial crisis that has hit the small towns the hardest. It would explain the attitudes too.

Thanks for your take on this story.

Posted by: chianazhaan (chianazhaan)
Posted at: 10th July 2011 23:46 (UTC)
Re: (Review) BtVS Tales of the Vampires: The Thrill

Some interesting comments:

People never noticed the dead bodies previously, though - and presumably there are less of them than before, since at least some vampires have decided, like May, to play the game.

Extending the Sunnydale Syndrome to include all humans could work, but it has it's own problems. It only partially worked in Sunnydale to begin with.

I also think it makes sense that changing the world may have had a Darwinian side effect on vampire behaviour. We've been shown that both parasite and predator strategies exist amongst vampires (and even Angelus and Darla seemed to prefer to be covert predators and not attract too much attention to their activities). Staying away from slayers was relatively easy when there was only one but now there are hundreds and from the infrequency of them being called out to take down vampire nests it would seem all too possible that most of the predator types have been dusted and the rest have adapted.

That is an interesting idea. The reverse situation is chilling however. Numerous vampire nests full of predatory vampires reducing the human world population by a drastic margin.

But maybe vampires were always more like parasites, and it was the hellmouth that turned them into predators? Not that idea works perfectly.

It's interesting to see readers deal with it. It highlight that people have a problem with it.

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