Aww. Connor has a younger sister now. How sweet. Also, all this talk of gates and keys reminded me of this little snippet:
Yog-Sothoth knows the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the key and guardian of the gate. Past, present, future, all are one in Yog-Sothoth. He knows where the Old Ones broke through of old, and where They shall break through again... They walk unseen and foul in lonely places where the Words have been spoken and the Rites howled through at their Seasons. The wind gibbers with Their voices, and the earth mutters with Their consciousness... As a foulness shall ye know Them. Their hand is at your throats, yet ye see Them not; and Their habitation is even one with your guarded threshold. Yog-Sothoth is the key to the gate, whereby the spheres meet. Man rules now where They ruled once; They shall soon rule where man rules now. After summer is winter, after winter summer. They wait patient and potent, for here shall They reign again.
Anyway, on with the review!
Seen in full profile, Spike's ship looks like a fish with an underbite. I'm sure it reminds me of something else too - maybe from a video game? - but I can't place it. Notice, also, that the ship is flying against a background of the setting sun - Twilight, in other words.
The next scene has been much discussed already. Buffy and Spike are completely comfortable and intimate together moments after meeting, to the extent that she's happy to use his private shower next to his bedroom. It does seem, though, that Spike's bed is rumpled and unmade because he's a slob rather than because he and Buffy spent the last half hour wrinkling the sheets together, as some people had speculated. Note that he has a couple of celebrity gossip magazines on his table, including a copy of Harmony's personal magazine, and that Buffy is now wearing the clothes she had on in her vision in 'Anywhere But Here'.
The story is coming full circle as we head back to Sunnydale, just as we did in 'The Long Way Home' - although in that one, Buffy was homesick while now she wishes she could move on.
At this point Spike goes into exposition mode to explain what's been going on, which I'm sorry to say is about on a par with the season plot of, say, Season 7, or Season 5, or... actually, it's a pretty standard 'Buffy' season finale bit of phlebotnum. Magical artefact, everybody wants it, must be protected, apocalypse imminent, yadda yadda. It's probably best if I extract some of the key statements from the text:
- "The source of all magic in the world. The world came from the Seed."
- "The Seed kept it here. Kept the warring nasties and the bubbling magical energies from seeping back into the old dimension, wherever that was."
- "With the Seed removed, the gate opens wide. Mother Earth destroyed so the new world can thrive."
- "The Earth demons won't want the new-universe demons to get it."
- "From the moment that Seed was planted, Twilight was an inevitability. Everything has a lifespan."
What I'm getting from this is that the universe (or multiverse, perhaps) is cyclical, and what's happening here with Twilight has happened at least once before, to create our own Earth. The Seed came into the new universe - our Earth - and served a dual purpose. It created magic and allowed the world to form, but it also kept out demons from other dimensions who would otherwise have invaded Earth. Like the cork in Spike's analogy, the Seed both keeps magic (wine) in the bottle, and also keeps foreign contaminants out of the bottle.
However, Buffy and Angel have created a new universe. My assumption is that what Spike refers to as the "new-universe demons", but may actually be the living personification of it as seen on the last page, want to take the Seed and move it into the new universe. The new universe would then get the benefits Earth used to receive from the Seed - magic exists and flourishes, and external Hell-dimensions are prevented from swallowing up the new world - while Earth loses them and is destroyed. Presumably this is exactly what happened to the former Earth when the Seed came to our own world all those years ago.
There's a certain level of logical disconnect in Spike blaming Buffy and Angel for creating the new universe, when he also says it was inevitable and that maybe Earth's time is just up. It's understandable, though; even if something is bound to happen sooner or later it's natural to blame the people who actually trigger it. I did like Spike's wine metaphor, both for Buffy's snarky response and the fact that Spike stubbornly doesn't give up on it but tries to use it on Xander too. It's interesting that he's taking the time to explain it to him, for that matter, speaking to the level of grudging respect they established in S7, even though Spike can't resist a sarcastic dig by calling him "little man". How does he know how big Xander is, anyway? He can't be talking about height given that Xander is taller than him. :D
Spike being a connoisseur of wine is a nice little character touch - he's not just a thug and womaniser after all, at least not when Joss and Scott are writing him. Madeira is an interesting choice since it's a wine that was specially developed for long journeys on board ships back in the Age of Sail (which is why it keeps so long, and 70-year old Madeira is still drinkable), and also because when William Pratt was alive it was quite expensive and exclusive, but in the 20th century became unfashionable and was generally considered only fit for use in cooking. Nice bit of research there, unless it was a happy coincidence. In the same vein, Spike mocking Buffy (and Angel) for never getting a higher education was a shrewd dig - and also confirmation, were it needed (the guy speaks Latin, after all...), that Spike as a human did get a good education.
Buffy is definitely feeling the guilt over her recent discovery that having sex with Angel triggered the apocalypse, though she's not regretting the sex itself. (At least she has the class to apologise to Spike for bringing it up in front of him though.) Her description of what it was like under the effects of the glow probably won't convince anyone who's already made their mind up one way or the other about the consent issues, if any, raised there - but for what it's worth, it consolidates my own view of them too. I think the analogy the writers were going for was two people swept up by uncontrollable hormone-inspired lust and doing something silly as a result, rather than the two of them being drugged into insensibility by a malicious third party for sexual purposes. The way Buffy reacts to her memory of the event here certainly supports the view, as does her chalking up her sex fantasies about Spike to "after-effects".
I'm guessing the reference to "You were the guy I told the things I wasn't supposed to tell" is specifically a call-back to "I think I was in heaven", though I'm sure there were other examples too. I'm also sure this particular scene has been much discussed in the reviews of the issue I've not read yet, so I'll keep this fairly brief... I do think it sums up the Buffy/Spike relationship perfectly as I understand it. Even down to the misunderstanding when Spike assumes she's fantasising about Angel, not him, and Buffy doesn't correct him out of embarrassment. A tragic lost opportunity there... Also, I want to say that Buffy's dialogue is perfect here; I can just imagine Sarah's voice saying these lines.
I know it's been suggested that Buffy's still under the influence of the glow here - in fact, she herself refers to "after-effects". Given that my interpretation of the glow is, as I said above, basically that Buffy's feeling loved-up and lustful due to a supernatural charge of hormones rather than that it's overriding her willpower, I don't see that as a negative here. Buffy might not be having quite such vivid and urgent sexual fantasies right there and then if she weren't still under some mystical influence, but the thoughts are still coming from her own libido, not some outside force. Note also that she's able to control herself - she doesn't rip Spike's clothes off for real. On another note, I'm also reminded of the scene in 'Always Darkest' where Buffy supposedly can't tell Spike and Angel apart, and the idea that Spike is a wild card in the Twilight prophecy because as a vampire with a soul loved by Buffy he also qualifies as a candidate for ascension. (Except maybe he's inherently less gullible than Angel when it comes to ancient prophecies told to him by mystical guides?)
Dawn's still freaking out adorably about the giant bugs, and Xander talks to her about the two of them moving in together after the battle's over and living as a couple. As any student of narrative tropes will know, this paints a huge "I'm going to die soon" bullseye on Dawn's chest, even if we hadn't already seen the cover for the next issue. Mind you, given that Joss has built his career around subverting narrative tropes, I'm hoping for some sort of twist - even if it's his own trope he's got to subvert here.
A few interesting points about Xander - he's offering to support Dawn through college and live with her, but he's not proposing marriage yet. Learned his lesson from Anya, perhaps? Also, if they're already discussing living together it's a reasonable assumption that they've started sleeping together already, wouldn't you say? But we haven't seen any sign of this on the page - making this the first sexual relationship involving a core Scooby where their first time together wasn't shown to the audience. Finally, he's willing to leave the Slayer organisation - and most importantly, leave Buffy - to go and live with Dawn in a normal life. I wonder if her confessing her feelings for him back in 'Turbulence ' has been any influence on that? Plus, of course, it's setting him up as a possible betrayer, since his plans no longer coincide with hers.
The general obviously has an evil plan, unless he's sneaking into the ventilation ducts purely to get away from the hideous sight of Warren and Amy snogging.
Angel's over in Japan helping Slayers, like a true superhero - except when he drops the monster head, he negligently manages to soak the Slayers in blood and gore. So nothing hugely symbolic and metaphorical going on there, then... I did like the demon about to come out with a dryly witty one-liner just before Angel killed it - that felt very BtVS.
More exposition; I've mentioned the Spike/Xander interchange already, but notice Willow comforting Giles, Buffy noticing her sister is unhappy and looking concerned, Xander stubbornly refusing to accept that the world's about to end, and Buffy noticing straight away that something bad is happening to Willow. Buffy is no longer in a world of her own (literally...) she's re-engaging with her friends and family. At first reading I wondered if the portal apparently opening behind Spike's head was a flashback to the Twilight prophecy, since that's what he's talking about: but now with more context I think it's probably Saga Vasuki opening the portal she's about to summon Willow through.
I smiled at Willow's call-back to 'Time Of Your Life' (The 'other way' to reach Aluwyn's home dimension is, of course, for Willow to have an orgasm). Some minor points about this scene: Willow and Aluwyn call each other by those names, but Aluwyn pointedly doesn't use anybody else's actual name, referring only to "the vampire" and "the Watcher". That implies to me either friendship or respect as equals, or both. Second, when we saw her last Aluwyn's eyes were solid white without pupils, but here they're solid black (with a white reflection, unless that's actually a pupil). Continuity error by the colourist, or some sort of clue? It's not like Willow's own eyes don't turn black on occasion, so I'm not willing to dismiss it automatically as just an error. Finally, and this is purely me having a mental age of 13, I was impressed by Willow' restraint in not once glancing at Aluwyn's big bare green boobies right in front of her. :-)
On a more substantive note, we have plot development and sowing the seed (hah!) of a possible intra-Scoobies conflict. We're informed that while taking the Seed of Wonder into the new dimension will allow Earth to be overrun with demons and destroyed, breaking the Seed won't be a good thing either - at least not from the point of view of magical creatures like Aluwyn or Willow herself. However, while destroying the seed will take away Willow's powers and prevent Saga Vasuki from intervening on Earth ever again, it will also make Earth safe from any more extra-dimensional attacks. I can see several members of Buffy's team think that's a price well worth paying - Xander and Dawn, for sure, maybe Giles too; not sure about Buffy. Willow is unlikely to see things the same way...
This scene sets up Willow herself as another candidate for the betrayer. She doesn't believe she will be, of course - hence why she presses Aluwyn for who it is; but notice that Aluwyn seems reluctant to reply, and also sorrowful? She obviously cares about Willow, and apparently thinks that revealing the name will hurt her as much as it will hurt Buffy. If Buffy decided at the last minute to break the Seed, would Willow try and stop her? And would she be unable to forgive her if Buffy broke it anyway?
On a plot note: presumably breaking the Seed ends magic because the Seed is the source of it. So why wouldn't taking the Seed into the new universe also end magic on Earth? I'm going to assume the answer is that "Earth-style" magic - the kind Giles and the Coven taught Willow to use in Season 7 - is what the Seed provides. However, if it's taken away from Earth but the dimensional walls are left open, then other kinds of magic - darker magic? - can still be drawn in from those Hell dimensions. Also, I don't know how far to trust the cork metaphor, but breaking a cork in a bottle doesn't cause the cork to disappear, it merely, as Aluwyn says, means you can't get it out again. so possibly "destroying" the Seed actually means spreading its substance around the Earth so that it can no longer be manipulated or controlled, it's just a permanent blockage.
Notice that Aluwyn is talking about Twilight as a person again, just as I'd got used to thinking of it as the name of an event...
Willow returns to consciousness and tells Buffy, with a worried look, that "We have to protect the Seed". Unless she does it off-camera, notice that she doesn't explain that destroying the Seed will, in fact, save the world, but have bad effects for Willow personally. Oh, Willow...
Apparently Angel's now in France, or possibly Quebec. I'm quite relieved that the series has moved on from the early days of S8, and the writers didn't try to represent the French Slayer's accent on the page phonetically... Him avoiding the embarrassing need to explain that it's his fault the world is in trouble by zooming off is classic Angel - see also the first issue of 'After The Fall'. Angel complaining that now he smells like the disgusting demon - more symbolism? But he's atoning for his past misdeeds, which is what Angel likes to do.
I suspect it's not a coincidence that the dialogue on this page goes: "But you were right, Buffy. I do need this." "Faith".
Georges Jeanty's ability to draw Faith seems to waver alarmingly on this page; in some frames she's totally recognisable, in others she looks utterly different. Giles obviously has some sort of plan which he's briefed Faith about previously - and Faith isn't happy about it, presumably because it involves more violence and killing which she wants to get away from. This, of course, is setting up Giles as the betrayer (and Faith too, but I don't think that she'd be "the most unexpected" in Buffy's eyes) since his plan might not be anything Buffy would like. Why else would he need Faith on his side otherwise?
Spike's glee at seeing Sunnydale Crater ("Did I do all of this?") and the big battle contrasts nicely with Buffy's lingering guilt and resignation. The battlescene was actually a little too uncluttered to look exciting to my taste, although it's interesting to see the US Army fighting demons for a change. :-) Spike's dialogue with the bugs was as funny as ever, although I must admit to thinking "Why's Spike saying "center" instead of "centre", he's supposed to be British!" then realising that the two spellings are pronounced exactly the same way...
Buffy looking all heroic and determined, while her internal voice is actually more concerned about Spike groping her, is highly amusing. Especially since we can see that Spike is actually clinging on for dear life and Buffy's bottom is probably the last thing on his mind right then. (Though he does make an off-colour sexual joke afterwards, typically enough.) I wonder why Willow waited instead of jumping out at the same time as Buffy - apart from narrative convenience, of course. Xander doesn't want to get left behind; it's left unclear what happens next. Willow could presumably carry him and fly down, but I doubt she could also carry Giles, Faith and Dawn who are also standing there at the same time. Unless she teleports instead? Or just waits for the ship to land...
Enter the Master... or at least someone who looks like the Master. Spike mentioned that the Seed has "its protector at its side". So either the Master was the Seed's protector all along, and has been resurrected somehow to serve it - or the Seed's protector has taken the form of the only Big Bad who actually managed to kill Buffy in order to freak her out. It doesn't work, of course. Incidentally, it may or may not be significant that the protector doesn't speak with the special 'vampire font' the comics usually use when vampires are in game face - omission or clue that he's not really the Master? Spike's speech isn't in that font either, but that could be because in the scene where he speaks he's actually in the act of vamping out, and the next time he speaks he's gone back to human face.
The protector seems to be under the mistaken impression that Buffy has come to take the Seed away to her new universe, and he's here to stop her doing that. Ironically, they may actually be on the same side... but Spike and Buffy, in their individual ways, both come off as pretty badass in this scene, so hey.
I'm disappointed that Buffy said "You were talking about power?" rather than something involving the words "It's about power", because then I'd have another version of the quote to decorate my LJ with...
And finally, we meet the entity which surely, surely, has to be the actual Big Bad of the season. I mean, there's only three more issues to go after this... It's the same chimera that appeared in Buffy's Slayerdream in 'No Future For You', saying the line, "The queen is dead, long live the queen". At the time I assumed that was a reference to the conflict between Buffy and Gigi to be leader of the Slayers, but given that Aluwyn repeats the same line in this episode when talking to Willow, it's clear it's a reference to the new universe replacing the old one. The entity is the personification of that new universe... and just as Spike warned, she's come looking for her parents. Since this entity is presumably the 'queen' we're talking about, and her body seems to resemble that of a lioness (female lion), I'm going to assume until further notice that the entity is coded female.
The talking animals were Angel's daughter talking to him... but was Whistler too? Or was Whistler a genuine envoy from the Powers That Be?
She thinks of Angel as her father - and Buffy, presumably, as her mother - hence my remark at the start of the review about Connor now having a sister. Or half-sister, technically. We also learn that the entity seen talking to Angel back at the start of this arc was, in fact, the uncreated universe, travelling back through time to persuade her own father to conceive her. Can we say "time paradox"? It's quite reminiscent of the whole Jasmine arc, in fact, with Angel being manipulated through prophecies (again). So far, the new universe's only motive seems to be the desire to exist and survive... the catch being, that to do so she needs the Seed of Wonder.
So, it look like she's about to tell Angel he has to steal the Seed from Buffy and give it to his daughter. Which of course means that just like Willow, Xander, Dawn and Giles, Angel is also being set up to be the closest, most unexpected betrayer. In other words, it's probably going to be either Spike or Buffy herself, since they're the only ones not set up as candidates this issue. Or it'll be all of them at once, in best Agatha Christie stylee...