StephenT (stormwreath) wrote,

(Review) BtVS 8.36 'Last Gleaming' Part 1

The disadvantage of getting comics two days after everybody else is that by the time you've read it and are ready to write a review, you suspect that everything that might be said about it already has been, and everyone has already moved on. But you know I'm going to do it anyway... I couldn't help but see some of the comments and reactions flying around, but I've done my best not to be influenced by them until now.


We get the famous cover of Spike with brownish eyes that were later changed to blue, over the protests of Jo Chen who argued that depending on the ambient light, his eyes really did look the colour she'd originally painted them. Georges Jeanty and Michelle Madsen, of course, drew them the colour everyone expects them to be since his chosen art style for Season 8 is representational rather than photorealistic.

Angel emerges from some sort of portal in the sky, which if you squint is kind of vaginal in shape and may be symbolic of a rather violent birth. (The whole issue is full of references to birth, hymens being broken, and such-like). He crashes into the poor, much-abused Hollywood sign - I think it was maggie who first spotted that to be specific, he hits the big 'O' in yet another visual pun referring to sex.

His monologue tells us his backstory while being suitably cryptic and vague. He's obviously come from a place where "we lost the war" and Los Angeles was left in ruins as a consequence. Whether his reappearance is due to time travel, or he's come from a parallel dimension, is left unclear. The Power Without Name later assures him that he's now back in his own world again, without answering where he was before.

My own theory is that Joss is hedging his bets here. He apparently came up with all of this storyline several years ago, right down to the detail of Angel hitting the Hollywood sign, before IDW ever published any of their 'After The Fall' comics. My suspicion is, therefore, that when Joss first wrote this his idea was that Angel was returning from the Hell dimension he was sent to after 'Not Fade Away'. But then Joss gave his notes for 'Angel' Season 6 to Brian Lynch, who wrote 'After The Fall' and came up with a different ending to it, and IDW have been publishing more comics about Angel set after he escaped from Hell-A. So rather than just come out and say that the IDW stuff isn't canon, which would be impolitic, Joss is being vague about where Angel has been and what he was doing. "Things got funky for a while."

The talking dog is a little bit bizarre, but fits right into a season that's given us fairy tale creatures. Not to mention that the Buffyverse already contains talking ventriloquist's dummies and plastic talking hamburgers, so a talking dog doesn't exactly strain the credibility even before we get the explanation that it's really a supernatural entity possessing the dog's body. I'm told that the dog is also a homage to 'Lost', but since I never watched 'Lost' I can't really comment on that any further.

Until we get a better identification, I'm going to refer to the entity as the Power Without Name (PWN), since that's what it calls itself. Which means it does have a name now. I've seen criticism that Angel shouldn't be so quick to believe any random talking animal that comes up to him and talks about destiny - but of course he isn't. He's extremely sceptical, cynical and sarcastic and tries to walk away; it's only the incident with the airliner that convinces him that something's going on.

Is the PWN good, evil, or neither - just a powerful entity with its own agenda? The third seems most likely, but I don't think any can be discounted yet. I have to say I did like the dog's sarcasm...

There's a very powerful symbolic moment which is easy to miss. The issue opened with Angel knocking over the 'O' of the Hollywood sign. But as he talks to the dog, without any fuss he's pushing the letter back up into place. Repairing the damage he did. That's not as flashy as him rescuing the airliner full of passengers, but I think it proves that at least at this point in his arc, Angel is fully himself, and a hero.

Son of Sam was the nickname of David Berkowitz, a serial killer who said he was ordered to kill by a demon who possessed his neighbour's dog. As for the part of the dialogue referring to Buffy, it reminded me of another similar conversation Angel once had:

PWN: That goofy little cheerleader really spun you right round, didn't she? What are we gonna do about that?
(B8.36 'Last Gleaming')

Tish Magev: You need to get over her. - Okay, what does she look like?
Angel:  She's beautiful. - Small, blonde...
Tish Magev:  Right.  So here's what you do.  You go out and find yourself some small, blonde thing.  You bed her, you love her, you treat her like crap, you break her heart.  You and your inner demon will thank me, I promise.

(A2.06 'Guise Will Be Guise')

I don't know if it's a deliberate similarity, but if so it's a tick in the "He's secretly evil!" column.

Angel discovering he has superpowers (well, beyond what he had already) is funny, but also in-character when after his initial moment of confusion, his reaction is a determined "Let's see what we've got." This is clearly the moment when he acquired the same abilities we saw Buffy get in 'Retreat' and 'Turbulence' - but since the first use he puts them to is to save the lives of several hundred innocent people, it's quite natural that he'd see them as an unalloyed blessing.

My first thought was to question why Angel didn't need to be pushed down to the same depths as Buffy apparently had to be before acquiring his superpowers: why he didn't need to feel completely bereft and powerless and alone. But then I realised that actually, he did. We saw it in the opening pages: Angel believed that the world had been destroyed, he failed and nothing was left but ruins. Being a stoic kind of guy, his reaction is to brood in the dark and fantasise that he can still see the lights of Los Angeles glimmering in the distance. Was he manipulated into this by the PWN or other mystical entities? Maybe.

The airliner being an Oceanic flight is another 'Lost' reference, although apparently the fictional airline has been used in over a dozen TV shows, comics, games and films whenever the writers didn't want to use a real name. I find myself wondering if the screaming passengers are meant to be drawings of real people as an in-joke, though I didn't recognise them.

The woman hitting on Angel gives us more proof that the PWN can possess any living being it wants. Is it limited to one at once? Who knows... It's not The First, though, since the woman hugging Angel is obviously corporeal. And we get a reference to the shanshu, something that only ever got mentioned on 'Angel' the series and not on 'Buffy' until now, and even a reference (though not by name) to Cordelia the Dragon from 'After The Fall'. Importantly to the plot, these both show Angel that the entity he's talking to has genuine knowledge of his life. He's been given power as a reward for his actions and sacrifices, and he can use this power to help save even more people's lives. I can't see a better way of pushing Angel's buttons, can you?

Now we see another flashback, this time of Spike and his mysterious steampunk spaceship. It's bursting out of another vaguely vaginal-looking rift in the space-time continuum, except this one is purple instead of blue and facing in the opposite direction to Angel's. Spike just has to be contrary. He's also in a classic pose, standing on the outside of his spaceship and yelling exhilarated defiance at his enemies. Where he got the ship, and who the bugs are, seems to be something Brian Lynch is going to write a comic about, so we shouldn't expect further explanation here.

Crashing into Big Ben is, of course, a classic moment in itself (and the fact that Spike's reaction is to shrug and say "On the other hand...funny" is perfect). The moment I was reminded of was from Series 1 of New Who with the Slitheen spaceship, but it's not the first time that poor clock tower has been wrecked by aliens. And Spike then reads the newspaper and is mildly shocked by Buffy being accused of being a terrorist, and hugely shocked by Harmony's new-found fame.

The next page was released a long time ago as a preview and has been much-discussed, but it does give us important insight into the whole "humans see vampires as good and Slayers as bad" thing, as well as more on Angel's motives for becoming Twilight. We see a partial answer to the question of whether the PWN can possess multiple beings at once: either it can, or it can move its consciousness from one to another fast enough to complete its own sentences.

It's not clear whether the parallel panels of Angel getting the Twilight costume and Spike working out what's going on are supposed to be happening more or less simultaneously, flipping from one to the other in sequence, or if Spike's panels are happening long after Angel's. It does seem to reinforce the idea, rejected by quite a lot of fans, that Angel wasn't lying when he said public opinion was already violently anti-Slayer long before he intervened.

The Costume-maker looks quite a lot like the Doll-maker from 'Living Doll', which led Emmie to speculate that he was the secret mastermind behind the whole plot. It seems more likely now that he too was possessed by the Power Without Name... though I have to say I'm reminded of the Chair-maker from Banks's novel 'Use of Weapons', which might be an indication that he really is more than he seems...

It's been said before, but the writer who shows Spike sitting on his bunk researching the Twilight cult online clearly has a better grasp of his complexities than those who think all he's interested in is a brawl, a drink and a pretty girl.... especially given how quick to recognise Angel he is. The cell phone footage of Angel Spike discovers on YouTube comes from Edinburgh - I suspect it was, in fact, taken by a witness to Angel's confrontation with Buffy and Satsu in 'A Beautiful Sunset'.

And finally, back to the Scoobies. That's Dawn hurrying the Slayers onto the spaceship and being all decisive and leader-y; one thing I did notice about these scenes is that even though there wasn't much space to give the ensemble characters space of their own, Joss and Georges did manage to cram in a lot of little revealing character moments in the backgrounds of the panels. Buffy's joke about "outgoing" was funny,and her question "How are the ones on the right?" was a callback to the last issue.

The next bit of dialogue between Buffy and Angel, has, I suspect, already been the cause of more drama than the Complete Works of Shakespeare.  On one level, of course, it can be read as a final, definitive answer to the big love triangle question: Buffy loves Angel, The End.

In fact, she can see herself spending the rest of her life with him... and not because she's still an over-romantic teenager still in "when I kiss you I want to die" mode, but because she  recognises what he did for her: literally gave up heaven and ascension to godhood to be at her side instead. I did like the was her line "I can't pronounce" flashed back to Spike's S6 line about "I can't even spell", but there he was talking about sex, while here it's not the sex Buffy's referring to but the moral actions. (Of course, both of them are glossing over the fact that their actions were the proximate cause of the apocalypse... though I think it's a fair argument that they were merely the tools used to set it in motion unintentionally.)

However, there are alternative readings of the scene. For one thing, none of this is anything we've not heard before. Joss has never seemed like the kind of guy to believe that you can only ever have One True Love, and it's not the first time Buffy has told Angel that she still thinks about settling down with him someday... remember how the Cookie Dough speech actually ended?

"Angel.  I do... sometimes think that far ahead."
"Sometimes is something."
"Be a long time coming. Years, if ever."
"I ain't getting any older."

But while Buffy held out a crumb of cookie dough to Angel (and Bangels) there, it was also a brush-off. And the fact is, she's doing exactly the same here. Angel spots it and calls her on it, in fact. ("Quit with the psychic, you.") Was she being so effusive about what a wonderful, bestest day of her life she just had to soften the blow that she's about to give him when she tells him to leave? It seems more than likely to me. Not that I think she's making up her feelings: she does say "he'd better" come back soon, after all. But that could simply be to make it more tragic when Joss kills Angel in issue 8.39. :-)

There's also the possibility that Buffy (and Angel) are not entirely in their right minds here, because a lingering influence from 8.34 remains. According to Scott Allie in Emmie's interview with him, talking about the infamous "glow": "It worked like a drug, clouding your judgment, but you’re still you. You should not abandon responsibility for your actions". A thought struck me after reading that: fandom seems to have settled on "the Universe" as the way to describe the force that drove Buffy and Angel's actions in 'Twilight' (when it's not calling it 'Glowhypnol'), but the word used just as often in the actual issue is 'evolution'.

Now, saying "the universe made us have sex!" sounds ridiculous... but saying "The force of evolution made us have sex!" is actually, a pretty good description of what does in fact happen often. How many of the people reading this have ever met someone they liked, got carried away with lust and hormones (and maybe a little too much to drink), and slept with them... only to realise, in the cold light of morning, that it was probably a mistake? But if we didn't have those feelings and urges, then life on Earth would never have evolved past the amoeba stage. And since the Universe's plan is replete with metaphors of birth and reproduction, thinking of the Glow as being a typically-Buffyverse supernatural externalisation of the power of uncontrolled hormonally-inspired lust seems pretty apt. And judging by her slightly crazed smile in some of these panels, Buffy is still feeling its effects.

On a different note, Willow getting revenge on Angel by briefly turning him into a frog was both funny, and a clear sign that you Don't Mess With Willow. She's come a long way from the girl who told Cordelia to "DELiver" her computer assignment, but some things never change. She's threatened to turn people into things before (Renee into a baby goat, notably) but this is our first proof that she wasn't kidding about being able to do it.

It's also significant that Angel says that Spike "has an agenda" in an attempt to discredit him, while the image shows Spike ushering an angry-looking group of Buffy's friends to safety. That's his agenda, hmm?

Buffy telling Angel that he needs to go and save the remaining Slayers as much for his own benefit as hers was suprisingly insightful and mature of her. It probably won't clear him in the eyes of people who've made up their minds he's now irredeemably evil, of course, but Joss has never done irredeemable. (And I did like Buffy's world-weary "Well, everyone else has".)

Back in the Spikemobile, and there's another of those little character moments I mentioned, where Dawn is freaking out about the giant bugs and Xander is being all protective and comforting. Meanwhile Faith is feeling understandably angry and betrayed by Angel, and Satsu's expression could melt a hole in a steel door.

This probably wasn't the first meeting between Buffy and Spike after 'Chosen' that most people had anticipated. Which of course is probably why Joss did it like this... While I can understand the disappointment people must feel who hoped there'd be more romance, I have to say that it all felt perfectly in character as a Buffy-Spike moment. Anger, sarcasm, counting things off on your fingers, making sly digs about Angel, and despite it all, Buffy instantly believing Spike and trusting him to tell her the truth. Yes, to me, that's how these two interact.

And it's typical Spike to turn a standard phrase about "comes with the package" into a sexual innuendo just by adding the word "sizable". I can imagine certain people reading that and saying "See! See!! I'm right after all!!" :-)

Oh, and apparently Buffy did know he was alive, but didn't get in touch because "I'm somehow leading an army", which meant she was too busy. We can choose whether or not to take that at face value or whether she had other motives for not doing so, or indeed when she found out about him. Remember, too, that Spike has apparently been away in some giant bug-filled dimension for who knows how long.

Spike gives us more plot exposition about the new universe Buffy and Angel created but then abandoned, and how that might not have been a wonderful idea after all. And then we get the big revelation about the "Seed of Wonder", whatever that is (other than being the glowing red thing we saw in 'Anywhere But Here', of course), the fact that it's in Sunnydale...and what must surely be the final surprise reappearance of the season: the Master's back. Incidentally, kudos to the writer for remembering that Spike would say "mummy" not "mommy". :-)

No, we don't know yet how he survived. It's possible that a Chameleon Arch was involved, though that might be a different Master. :-) I'm sure we'll find out - or indeed, whether this is the same Master or an alternate dimension or re-created version of him.

While Spike is making his "This is your Captain speaking" announcement over the intercom, we get our final tableau of character moments. Warren and Amy kissing while the General holds his hat over his mouth to try and keep from throwing up is probably the most vivid of these... Andrew appears to have recovered from his injuries and is the only person who actually seems cheerful. Leah and Rowena are there in the background, and it's great to see they've survived everything and are there for the finale.

But most interestingly, there's Buffy, looking distinctly unhappy and uncomfortable and hugging her chest tightly. Willow is acting all worried and giving her a comforting squeeze on the shoulder, which is proof that she's forgiven Buffy (or at least, her concern for her friend has overridden her anger with her) even if she's still feeling vindictive toward Angel. It seemed to me that it was when Spike told her about the universe "ditched at birth" that might come "looking for mummy" that she started reacting like this - in other words, it was when her culpability for the current mess really first hit her.

So what happens now, with four more issues to go? I've got a theory (no bunnies are involved) but it can wait for a separate post...


Tags: buffy, season 8, season 8 review
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