So. Anybody out there still interested in Buffy 8.35 now the comic has finally landed on British shores two days later than most other places?
As for me, my overriding thought on reading this issue was, "Huh. So basically, the point of this story arc is to satirise Premillennial Dispensationalism and the Christian doctrine of the Rapture?" Because honestly, the comparisons are close and sustained. Okay, you could also compare it to other millennarian doctrines such as Marxism or Neoconservatism, but it's the religion analogy that struck me as the closest.
After all, you've got Buffy and Angel being taken up to heaven by the power of their mutual rapture. We're told they've been granted this as an act of grace, because of their righteousness. But while they're enjoying the benefits of paradise, those Left Behind™ are suffering tribulations and being tormented by demons. Angel accepts this, despite his concern for them, because it's all part of the divine plan. The way it's Meant To Be. Is he being evil, cruel, selfish? Well, would you use those adjectives to describe the millions of Americans and others who believe in the Rapture and presumably, therefore, hold quite similar views to Angel regarding those who failed to achieve salvation?
Anyway, enough philosophising; on with the review.
Buffy has her Admiral Ackbar moment, and immediately leaps to the conclusion that something bad is about to happen to them. She's always been self-aware and fourth-wall-breaking, and this is no exception. Indeed, the thought occurs to me that -- just as last issue might have contained an element of Joss poking fun at the fan conviction that whom Buffy sleeps with is the most important thing in the universe --here he's mocking his own reputation that whenever two of his characters have a moment's happiness, especially if it involves sex, then they must inevitably be about to suffer terrible consequences.
I liked Buffy's fighting pose, back to back with Angel, although it did strike me with a little cognitive dissonance. I associate that kind of 'fighting together in total harmony' as being more a Buffy/Spike thing than a Buffy/Angel thing; maybe I've turned into a Spuffista without realising it. *g* But I tend to think of Buffy and Angel fighting separately, even during the earlier seasons - he was handling one set of bad guys while she was off in another room fighting the others. So this seems odd.
It's interesting that Angel immediately follows her lead, even though he's sceptical of the need for it. He still respects her leadership.
When the preview came out, a few people commented on Buffy referring to 'orcs'. Given her extensive pop culture knowledge, I don't find it the least bit surprising that she's seen 'Lord of the Rings' and can probably quote from it extensively (I'm less sure that she's read the book, though). It fits the context because she's talking about generic storybook monsters, and if you're Buffy demons are real, not fairytales. Also of relevance, in the Joss Whedon-written comic 'Stacy' (from 'Tales of the Vampires') the vampire protagonist refers to herself and the powers of evil in general as 'We're the orcs', and this seems to carry the same weight of symbolism.
We later learn that their minds formed both their surroundings and their clothes out of their imaginations. Apparently Buffy believes that in Eden, she would wear a pure white chiton... while Angel is in modern-looking trousers and shirt. She's clearly the more imaginative one. The reference to a poisoned apple obviously recalls the story of Adam and Eve too, although maybe Snow White would be an equally apt comparison. (And a call-back to the first arc of the season.) Buffy's reference to feeling the 'afterglow' is obviously a call-out to the infamous glow from 8.33. You'll note that now they're in Twilight, they're no longer glowing.
Meanwhile back on Earth, and Giles and Willow are still locked in their exposition-through-argument. Willow calls Twilight a place, which I suspect is only an approximation of the truth, which is that Twilight is a concept. It's the liminal stage between day and night, or between one universe and the next. It's Twilight in the Germanic mythology sense of the word. The end of one world and beginning of the next.
So Giles, like all Watchers, knew all along that there was a prophecy about a Slayer and a vampire falling in love, proving themselves worthy through multiple heroic deeds, and thereby bringing about the total destruction of this universe. Willow is shocked that he would keep this a secret from Buffy. I, knowing Giles, am not at all shocked that he'd be reluctant to share this with her. What would he say?
"Hey, Buffy, don't fall in love with Angel. There's an ancient prophecy - which may or may not be true - that it will lead to dire consequences. Oh, and the prophecy might apply to Spike instead, now he has a soul too, so you'd better not fall in love with him either." I'm sure she'd listen. Or how about, "Buffy, if you prove yourself worthy the universe will reward you with godlike powers, which would be bad for the rest of us. Please stop being so heroic. Be more selfish occasionally." And for that matter, there's "Buffy, if you suddenly acquire additional superpowers from a mysterious cosmic source, I'm going to have to kill you." I'm sure Giles would love sharing that little titbit with her -- or even admitting it out loud to himself -- not to mention the tactical unwisdom of warning her to be on her guard.
Instead, it seems to me to be very Giles-like that he would keep quiet, hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Especially since he was more than half-convinced the whole thing was just a myth anyway, until Angel convinced him in 8.33.
Xander lampshades Angel's actions over the rest of the season - and as lusciousxander has pointed out, it's a sign of his growth that he's now puzzled rather than gloating that Angel has 'shown his true colours'. Giles offers the 'his judgement was confused by the power of Twilight' defence, which I'm guessing is what the season is going with.
And now it's pouring demons (as opposed to raining men?). Xander instantly snaps out an order to Kennedy; Kennedy accepts it without question (but has already anticipated it). Both of these are interesting character statements in their own right. :-)
The interaction between Warren and Andrew is even more interesting. The quarrel over the shield seems like something straight out of Season 6... until Andrew sees the demon attacking, warns Warren, and then shelters him behind him (with an arm around his shoulder, even). Andrew in Season 6 would never have had the self-confidence or presence of mind to do that. But he suffers for it, as the demon cleaves the shield in two. I'm not sure exactly what injuries Andrew suffers - you'd think, if anything, his right arm would take the brunt of the blow, but it looks intact and instead he's unconcious and bleeding from the mouth. Since it was an energy sword, maybe it was some sort of transferred shock of heat that injured him. Incidentally, the fact that he's bleeding is a sign that he's not dead: you don't bleed once your heart has stopped beating.
Warren, in turn, is all concerned about Andrew, and goes so far as asking his hated enemies for their help. I'm not sure whether this is meant to be a sign of his possible redemption - though I'm pretty sure that in Joss's worldview anybody (with a soul) is capable of that, even Warren Meers - or just a reminder that human beings, however many other flaws they may have, are still capable of affection and empathy. Amy, meanwhile, reminds us that they're still supposed to be evil. I smiled at her line.
Since it's brought up in the next section, let's talk about sex. It amused me that Angel is acting a bit like a lovestruck teenager after his first time here - there was his comment about Buffy's finger earlier, and here he's all "Mother of mercy, we had the sex part." Buffy, while also making remarks about afterglows and satisfaction, is much more casual about it all. The thing is, that while Angelus and Liam before him presumably had lots of sexual experience, that was all more than a hundred years ago, and probably never reached the level of 'making love'. Souled Angel, I would guess, actually has far less sexual experience and confidence than 25-year old human Buffy now does, courtesy of Parker, Riley, Spike and Satsu. It shows, and it's an appealing reversal.
On the other hand, Brad Meltzer apparently never got the memo that there were questions raised about consent issues due to mysterious glows or the Universe taking the characters over. Buffy and Angel are acting like two old flames and former lovers who really missed each other, met up again and decided to have some really amazing sex - because he told her she shouldn't be afraid to be happy, and she impulsively decided to take him up on his suggestion. (I went back to check 8.33, and getting physical was definitely Buffy's idea, not Angel's.) In the first scene Buffy doesn't want to talk about the sex just yet, but I got the impression that was because it was the wrong time for complicated emotional discussions possibly involving cookie dough metaphors. She was expecting an imminient orc attack -- not feeling particularly upset or violated or anything. Assuming I've interpreted the author's intentions correctly here, I'd hazard a guess that he didn't even think any other reading was possible.
On the other hand, Angel is acting weird in this scene... but weird in a way I recognise. It's the Rapture metaphor again. All that "So much doubt always" and "I think we're finally free"... Angel is talking like a new convert to a religious cult. A true believer trying to love-bomb Buffy into joining the same cult.
Buffy's natural scepticism comes to her rescue. I did like her reaction to Angel's "the only way we get here is with each other"... At first she seemed stunned; there's a deer in the headlights quality about her eyes, though I also detect a trace of a smile - but then she just gets pissed off. Clearly, Buffy is thoroughly impatient with the idea of Stephanie Meyer-style Destined True Love. (And equally clearly, any thoughts that Joss was trying to push the Buffy/Angel 'ship unironically into that kind of Fated Soulmates trope now appear unfounded. At least to me...)
The next conversation has multiple layers to it. Angel assumes Buffy is joking -- maybe because he can't believe she hasn't accepted how wonderful it is to be Saved. He assumes that her jokes are a way of deflecting the conversation away from serious subjects, and compares it to Xander's similar habit. Buffy knows without explanation what Angel means -- but also denies his insight, saying that Xander jokes because he wants to, not because he's hiding away. In her retort Buffy simultaneously, therefore, tells Angel that she knows Xander better than he does, and that Xander is more mature than the boy Angel used to know back in Sunnydale.
I'm not entirely clear why Buffy's clothing keeps changing to match the costumes of past Slayers. It might just be a background colour detail to show that she's the culmination of the Slayer line, or it might be significant later. Equally interesting is how Angel recognises the costumes -- they're from before even his time so it can't be his own memories.
The pool table is also entirely random. (Is it a 'Fool For Love' reference?)
And now they're in the blank white space, the tabula rasa (which actually reminded me of the White Room in W&H). Their argument highlights the classic difference between Buffy and Angel in terms of motivation.
Buffy is all about her family and friends. It's not that she doesn't have principles and values; but they're not why she fights. Buffy would send the world to hell rather than let anyone kill Dawn.
Angel is a loner, who wants to make the world a better place but isn't all that keen on interacting with its people. He steps out of the shadows, offers his help, then fades back into the darkness. He sets up Connor in a new life, takes one last look through the window and leaves, intending never to see his son again.
It doesn't work out that way, of course: but that's because Joss's moral seems to be that Angel's approach is the flawed one. You need people, and Angel needs to be constantly prodded and reminded as to why they're important. His story from 'Welcome to the Hellmouth' to 'Not Fade Away' is one long series of epiphanies and backsliding about that simple fact. And apparently, it's still going on here. :-)
Buffy tears a hole in the page of the comic to see what's going on back in the other scene. (Or something like that.) This at least confirms, as I thought, that neither she nor Angel were aware of the damage they were causing last issue. Angel's reaction suggests that he knew their ascension would cause changes back on Earth, but he appears genuinely surprised and shocked that things would be so bad. However, he's not worried because he thinks that "We can fix it". Again, I wonder how the people who've been taken up in the Rapture are supposed to regard the sinners left behind on earth. With the same sort of detached compassion and vague regret Angel is showing here? For that matter, I'm reminded of Buffy's own description of Heaven, how she "knew" that everybody she loved was safe (when they really weren't).
For the second time, Angel tells Buffy that the two of them can finally get to be happy together, and once again Buffy gets all dewy-eyed. The prospect really tempts her. (The prospect of being together with Angel specifically, or just the idea of finally getting to be happy? I think that's open to interpretation by individual fans. *g*)
An interlude of the battle. Faith rescues Andrew, with Warren's help... Xander shows a touching concern for Faith and Faith doesn't even knock his hand away or anything. Willow and Amy are fighting back to back and discussing tactical options... and in what might be karma, Amy gets knocked out just as she suggests "getting us out of here" (Did she mean just herself and Willow, or the whole gang? My suspicion is the first; Amy is fundamentally selfish.)
Willow, presumably, doesn't like being told she smells of anything, be it good or evil... and did the demon mean she's good and Amy's evil, or that both of them partake of both? Either way, all I can say is ouch. Pissing off Season 8 Willow is a bad idea.
I understand a lot of people are unhappy with Angel's characterisation here, especially when he tries to block the sight of the battle. He's certainly not behaving admirably -- although I do suspect that he might be hiding the sight because he's feeling troubled and guilty himself and doesn't want to watch it, rather than because he's trying to convince Buffy everything will be for the best. He seemed surprised and distressed enough when he saw the earlier battle scene. I think he's honestly convinced that they can create a new world here... at first he didn't think there'd be a price at all, and now he's seen that other people are paying it, he's trying to justify his earlier decision to himself as much as to Buffy.
Xander's absolute faith in Buffy is pretty touching. I doubt she heard him literally -- though if she's become a goddess, maybe she actually did hear his prayer *g* -- but she makes a classic Buffy decision anyway. Screw destiny. And fuck evolution.
(Since it came up often in previous discussions, I'd like to say that 'evolution' means "a gradual process of development, an unrolling". It doesn't only have to refer specifically to Darwin's theory about the evolution of living organisms through a process of natural selection, you know. *g*)
Buffy's defiance gives Angel an epiphany (is that the 15th? *g*). I will say, it seems pretty sudden and out of the blue - maybe Angel's just had so much practice at them by now? Or maybe he places a special value in Buffy's insight, and was already starting to harbur doubts himself. Mind you, it is very well depicted for what it is. Jeanty's artwork, as usual, captures the facial expressions perfectly. The way Angel looks down as if to say "I'm being an idiot, aren't I?" is just so well captured.
Give him credit; when he realises he's been wrong all along, he doesn't bitch and moan about it. He accepts it with good grace and immediately tries to make amends for his fault. You can't ask more of anyone.
We get another close-up of Buffy looking all emotional... but before, she was also teary-eyed. Now, her eyes are clear. I really loved the little detail of the way she bound up her hair before going into battle, the genuine-sounding 'I did miss you', and then the business-like "I'll take the ones on the left." It's another classic Buffy hero moment for our lists.
By comparison, the battle scene is just a battle scene, though impressive enough. I'd actually forgotten that Buffy and Angel are still ultra-superpowered, but they cleave through the demons like they were nothing.
Willow being snarky is always fun to see. It did seem to me that there was more of an edge to her remark to Angel, while with Buffy she was, while still pointed, rather more teasing. Not to mention smutty. Also, I liked that Buffy's first words after returning to the battle were specifically, "Willow, I'm sorry." :-)
And finally... the spectacular appearance of who I assume will be the last character to make a shock final-panel-of the-comic heroic entrance this season. I would like to say I was slightly wrong, since a couple of months ago I predicted that this would be the last panel of issue 8.34, not 8.35. I was out by one month. *g* Also, I didn't predict that Spike would climb out of a bizarre brass rivetted steampunk monstrosity... I assume we'll find out more about it (like, what the heck it is) in the autumn. It looks kind of like a hermit crab, making me think it's a submarine -- or something for burrowing through the earth. Or maybe it travels to other times and dimensions, entirely unlike a TARDIS since that's copyrighted to a different franchise. Let's call it the chronosphere.
Either way, Willow clearly recognises it. That means one of two things. Either she's familiar with that type of vehicle and knows it belongs to allies of hers -- it actually made me think of Muffit's turbo-V8 powered wheelchair in 'Goddesses and Monsters', so maybe Saga Vasuki and her gang are involved in this. Or she knows Spike will be onboard and is looking forward to seeing everybody else's reactions. Or both (maybe she asked Aluwyn to help Spike out?).
In the group shot when everybody looks at the chronosphere, Willow seems to be trying to keep a straight face instead of breaking out in a huge grin; everybody else is stunned. Then Spike appears... and everybody looks even more shocked. Unfortunately, the picture is too small to show clear reactions, but even Willow looks surprised to see him. Angel looks irritated rather than surprised, which amuses me. As for Buffy... she looks pretty stunned herself.
So here's the question: is this the long awaited "Buffy discovers Spike is still alive" moment after all? Or did she know all along, and she's only surprised to see him here, now? (Or, if you want to be more uncharitable, is she worried that he'll be able to smell the fact that she and Angel just had sex, and she's embarrassed about that?) I suppose we'll find out in four months' time...
On which subject, I notice that in the letters page Scott repeated his standard formula that "there are conversations going on between the characters off the panel" and that "Andrew would have told the others about 'the big news items' from his meetings with Angel". He says this whenever anyone asks him if Buffy knows Spike is alive, and it's a perfect politician's response because it appears to answer the question without actually doing so. Scott has never once said specifically in so many words, "Yes, she knows he's alive", and his deliberate avoidance of that seems significant. It could be that he simply didn't know the answer and was trying to avoid tying his writers' hands in case one of them chose to make it a plot point later.... or maybe he knew it would be a major issue in 8.36 and didn't want to give away any spoilers. We'll see.
It would actually be in character, I think, for Andrew to obey Spike's wishes to not tell Buffy he was alive by telling Willow instead, and leaving it to her discretion and timing whether or not to tell Buffy. That might explain Willow's reaction here.
One final note: I'm going to quote 'A Beautiful Sunset' again, because of how obvious the foreshadowing is in retrospect:
"Saving the world means keeping the status quo. But apocalypses come because the world is trying to change. It has to.
"That either means chaos, and the morons chaos inevitably employs... or it means moving forward. To something better. And I did that.
Change brings chaos and suffering. Buffy learned that by issue 8.11 of the comic; it took Angel until issue 8.35. The question Joss will need to answer in the final six issues of this season is - does that mean that we should be afraid of change? Avoid it? Accept the status quo, however bad it may be? I'm guessing the answer will be "No", but how it will work out still remains to be seen...
(Review) BtVS 8.35 'Twilight' Part 4
So. Anybody out there still interested in Buffy 8.35 now the comic has finally landed on British shores two days later than most other places?