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(Review) BtVS 8.38 'Last Gleaming' Part 3

5th November 2010 (15:28)

So, this is the antepenultimate issue of Season 8, and it seemed to be mostly building the action and tension up to the big climax rather than having a lot of characterisation and relationship elements. So will that mean there's less for me to talk about in the review? We'll see...

Jo Chen's cover shows a concerned-looking Xander carrying a dead-looking Dawn out of a cave, and the Dark Horse spin machine has been hinting for months that Dawn was about to die. The hints became so obvious that I think most people had concluded it was a mislead, and so it turns out to be... she's not dead. she's only resting (and possibly pining for the fjords). Of course, this could still mean that in the next issue she'll haemorrhage from internal injuries and die and Joss & Scott will stand there shouting "Ha ha! Psyche! Fooled you!". But probably not. :-)

Sierra Hahn's page-2 blurb has been amended, and now Spike is "vampire with a soul, former lover, latest prophecy keeper" rather than how it described him before...

And poor Angel is getting beaten up and abused by his darling daughter. (Or son, but I still think that's a winged lioness.) It did feel a bit weird for her to mention "Mother" and to realise a moment later that she means Buffy - and her statement that Buffy "rejected me for lack of conflict" doesn't match what we saw of Buffy's real motives (protecting her friends) but I can see why the universe she created might interpret it that way, when Buffy abandoned her to go and plunge into a big battle back in her own world.

I could even get all psychological and suggest that the New Universe is feeling rejected, but trying to process her feelings in a way that doesn't result in "Mother doesn't love me"- and comes up with "Mother prefers lots of violence"... And so the New Universe is trying to be what her mother wants her to be, by becoming all violent (towards Angel). Awww.

Alternatively, Maggie's suggestion that this story is a sustained metaphor for Joss's own creative process works pretty well, although it's quite an alarming insight into his mind. Presumably, Angel in this scene represents Joss himself, and the winged lioness is the new ideas for stories he keeps having (Cabin in the Woods, Dr Horrible, Dollhouse, his Wonder Woman script), the Seed of Wonder is his creativity, and the old universe is the Buffyverse. His new creations want him to move his creative energies out of his old stories and pour them into the new ideas instead - but when he's reluctant and doesn't want to let go of Buffy and the others, his new ideas won't let him rest and start, well, beating him up...

A few minor notes. The winged lioness says "I will be more monstrous, more beautiful, than anything she has ever feared or fantasised" which recalled to me Galadriel's speech in 'Lord of the Rings' when Frodo offers to give her the One Ring. Angel is learning that the wonderful new world he and Buffy were to create together has a mind of its own, as all children do. She also repeats the line about "the Queen is dead, long live me" which calls back Buffy's slayerdream in 'No Future For You', where she also dreamed about this creature. We get a confirmation of what was mentioned last issue, that the Seed of Wonder is the soul of the universe itself. Currently the new universe has no soul (which explains why she's so vicious...) but wants Angel to bring her the Seed to be her soul (leaving our own current universe soulless instead).

We also get more confusion as to who or what exactly the name "'Twilight' refers to, with the phrase "Father, there already is. It's you." Twilight refers to the time period between day and night, the dividing line between one time and the next; in this case, the process by which our world ends so the new one can begin - the Twilight of the Gods. But I suppose it can also refer to the person who brings that about.

Back to Sunnydale, and I did like Willow's "The word important isn't important enough for how important it is" which sounded very Scoobyish. Some of the Master's dialogue fell a bit flat, especially the 'My face?' part; it seemed far more insecure than the Master ever was on the TV show. On the other hand, his comment "I sort of thought he'd show" about Angel(us) was perfect, as was Spike's snarky reply. Ditto Dawn's muttered fourth-wall-breaking aside about the Master not being the only one to be challenged by the major plot points...

So anyway, the Master is under the impression that Buffy wants to remove the Seed and give it to her new daughter-universe, which he's here to stop; he doesn't realise she's abandoned her creation and wants to keep the Seed here instead. Meanwhile, Faith and Andrew are fighting demons up above in the crater - and we see that Faith has the Scythe. Buffy had it in Tibet in 'Retreat' before she acquired her superpowers, but it's been noticeable that it hadn't appeared since, apart from a mysterious insert when Giles was talking about finding a weapon capable of killing a God (!).

I'm not exactly sure what's going on: did Buffy think the Scythe was lost after the battle in Tibet, but Giles found it and secretly gave it to Faith as part of his nefarious plan? Or is it more innocent than that, and Buffy decided that since she now had godlike powers she didn't need the Scythe as well, so she gave it to the next-most-senior Slayer to use? Which would be very generous of her given how often she calls it "MY Scythe" and her general view of Buffy-and-Faith History.

Also, when did Andrew learn to fight like that?

Anyway, some demons break in, and Dawn gets hurled aside and cracks her head open on some rocks, and Xander presumably flashes back to all the other girlfriends who died on him. One of the demons seems to assume Willow is the one with the answers - I assume the "it" referred to is the Seed - and Willow burns it alive. Ouch. I'm not sure if her eyes went black at that moment, but I did like the way the colourist showed her face changing from pink to yellow with the reflected light of the flames, and the following panel where all you can see in her face are her eyes. Oh, and Spike's reaction was again very in character.

So not only is Dawn not dead (yet...) but she's able to get snarky when Xander refers to her as heavy. She is drawn as being very pale, though, and she's somehow got a bleeding wound in her side as well as her head injury.

Buffy decides to kill the Master, possibly on general principles, possibly because she has issues with him as the Big Bad who actually killed her, and possibly because Dawn is hurt, she's feeling helpless and wants to pummel someone to make herself feel better. Notice that she instinctively asks Spike for help, and he does so? Anyway, Willow steps in to advise allying with him instead, because he wants to protect the Seed the same as they do (and especially the same as Willow herself does, since she has a personal interest in this.) Giles thinks this is a good idea - I'm not certain he's thinking clearly though. He says that "a demon already attached to this world" wouldn't want the apocalypse "any more than you or I" - which works for someone like Spike, but certainly isn't true of all demons: and wasn't the Master's plan always to open the Hellmouth and turn our world into Hell?

Willow dismisses Buffy's grudge against the Master in the way only a close friend would dare, and Buffy in turn realises Willow is hiding something and calls her on it. Willow, however, seems to give an honest answer - though I do wonder if her plan to use the Seed's power to draw on "the spiritual realms" is something Aluwyn told her about, or entirely her own idea. I suspect the latter. It's interesting also that Buffy refers to "your snakey demon hottie girlfriend" - a call back to 'Wolves At The Gate' - but this time Willow doesn't challenge the word 'girlfriend'. I don't read much more into it than Willow is more worried about saving the world than to quibble over definitions right now, but it is notable that we haven't seen Kennedy since 'Retreat'. At least, not unless that slightly darker-skinned Slayer with long brown hair seen fighting demons in one of the other panels is meant to be her rather than just a random Slayer; but even in that case, she's not named and not with Willow.

So we enter the room with the Seed, and ooh look, it's just like in the vision in 'Anywhere But Here'. The Master turns on Buffy and does to her pretty much what she did to him earlier. (Then the same to Spike when he tries to come to Buffy's help.) His reason seems to be "Its power embraces the world-- and it's not letting go" which implies he still doesn't believe Buffy is not planning to take the Seed away, and he's protecting it from her. We also discover that this close to the Seed, Buffy's Twilight-given superpowers no longer help her - since Xander has gone to help Dawn and Andrew is upstairs fighting, it's left to Willow as the next-most geekiest character to make the inevitable Kryptonite reference. Earlier on, the Master asked Buffy to come "together, you and I" to guard the Seed - it seems to me he was already planning to betray her, knowing that as soon as she reached the Seed chamber she'd lose her power and he'd be able to defeat her.

We now have an intimate (and whispered) conversation between Buffy and Giles where she intuits that the Seed is what he was looking for in order to prevent the Twilight (though it seems he didn't know exactly what it was going to be until he found it). He needed something that could "kill a God", and Buffy works out that the Seed can kill her and Angel now they're powered up. And she accepts it: she seems here to be facing the idea that the only way for save the world now might be for herself (and Angel) to die, and she's willing to make that sacrifice.

"I get it. All this started when we shared the power. We changed the world... bound to be some casualties. Wouldn't be the first time for me. It's what we do."

And some people call her selfish...

And back to Angel. Last we saw of him, he was desperately fighting his creation; but interspersed through this comic, we've seen his face lying unconscious and bathed in a weird green glow. Now we see that Miss Kitty has defeated him. She tells him to stand up, and he does; she tells him to fly and he does. It's left unclear whether Angel is now under total mind control, or whether he's been beaten so badly he no longer has any will left to resist. The first seems more likely, although the second might not be entirely impossible - though I'd think it would take a psychological or existential threat to make Angel give up so thoroughly rather than merely physical pain, hence why I suspect mind control.

So one of Spike's bug crew turns out to be a misogynist who's not happy that Spike is the willing follower of a female leader; apparently that's something the bugs thought they were getting away from. He's promptly splattered by the General, which is kind of a "serves him right" moment really. :-) So the mini-Bads are free again, and the General takes the first opportunity to get away from the two freaks he's unwillingly teamed up with. We see him again later in the issue, but what Warren and Amy are going to do is left a mystery.

I kind of get the feeling the Buffy-Giles conversation was put in as fan service; not that I'm saying that as a negative, necessarily, but it felt a little bit like "We need a nice scene between the two of them where he can be all supportive and admire how strong she's become".

We saw US Army soldiers in the battle around the crater in the last issue, and they help treat Dawn's injury... and we're set up for a conflict in the next issue as the General is persuading Xander to break the Seed rather than protecting it. It's not clear whether he's got some nefarious cunning plan, or if he's simply telling the truth as he sees it. (That's usually more convincing than lies). The General is clearly one of the people who joined Twilight when the cover story was "ending magic", and he could well be genuine when he sees Xander and Dawn - the two normal people on Buffy's team - as being fundamentally on "his side" as opposed to the witches and Slayers they've been hanging out with.

So we seem to be getting a set-up here where Xander will decide his friends have been misled, and it's his job to break the Seed, which will automatically put him in conflict with them, and especially with Willow. We were told last issue that breaking the Seed will cut off our world from all the other realms, stopping the demon invasion but also cutting off our world from magic, which is why Willow isn't a fan of that plan. I know some people have argued that she's being selfish there, that losing magic would be a price worth paying to end the demon threat - but the other thing to remember is that the Seed has been referred to as the soul of the universe, and destroying the world's soul doesn't sound like a good idea either. It might even, I suggest, lead to the kind of soulless dystopia we saw in 'Fray' and 'Time Of Your Life'...

Joss being the sadistic storyteller he is, there might also be a more personal cost if Xander breaks the Seed. We've been told that destroying it won't affect demons who are already part of this world, it will only prevent new ones from arriving - and likewise, Slayers will still be around but no new ones will appear. But what will be the effect on a mystic Key given human form? Dawn's original purpose was to open the paths between dimensions; breaking the Seed will close forever all the paths between dimensions, and the two ideas do seem kind of connected. It would be a perfect Jossian irony if Xander breaks the Seed thinking it will protect his friends, but by doing so he kills Dawn.

I wonder how many people will pick up the next issue and read it gingerly at arm's length, peeping between their eyelashes not really wanting to see what happens? :-)

We're led to believe that Xander might have good reason to worry his friends are being corrupted by the power of the Seed, and to emphasise this, we next have a scene of Willow casting a big spell using it and getting all scary and disturbing. Her actual words aren't all that bad, but the chains on the Master's wrists, the blood on his face, and the eerie red glow reflected off Willow's own face are ominous. I'm not sure if her eyes really are glowing red with the same light as the Seed - which would be a new colour to add to her repertoire ;-) - or if it's reflected light.

Willow is calling on "the queen of Earth, undying" to empower her "sworn protector". The artist shows us the Master, but on the final paragraph switches to Buffy who is in the middle of protecting them. So is Willow casting her spell to empower the Master, or Buffy? If the former, I can't see that ending well... but if so, why is he chained?

Buffy and Spike are fighting side by side, and then Angel steps in to save the day. Or so it seems (dun dun DUN!). "Burst" as a comicbook sound effect is kind of funny. Buffy's pleased to see him, Spike seems less than happy that Buffy's pleased to see him, and Angel has a scary expressionless look and seems to be faintly green in colour, as if Miss Kitty's power has sunk beneath his skin.

Then Angel punches Buffy in the face, knocks Spike away when he tries to help, and announces that he's here as Twilight. Buffy's pupils shrink to pinpoints as she looks at him in horror... and that's it for another month. I believe I may have said something like "OooOOooh!" at that point, only half-jokingly.

So: lots of action, the plot falling into place although there's still room for a surprise twist or two right at the end, some nice scenes between the characters drawing on their past development and relationships, but no real new twists in that department. And next issue we're promised devastating loss and horror and tragedy...


Posted by: erimthar (erimthar)
Posted at: 5th November 2010 16:36 (UTC)

I know we're being set up to suspect that Xander will be the real betrayer (with noble intentions, of course), but I'm finding it hard to believe that at this point, after all he's been through, he would listen to someone like the General. Of course, Xander hasn't been privy to the conversations with Amy and Warren that show the General is truly his enemy and not just a soldier misled by Twilight. (This would be a really good time for Riley to show up.)

Willow has gone red-eyed before (when Tara was killed). It looks like she's about to lose control, becoming some kind of avatar of the Seed, in which case she's probably going to face off mano-a-mano with Angel, the avatar of Twilight.

We've got an awful lot to get through in the next 22 pages. Some clues: Scott Allie has mentioned that the Scythe will play a major role; Giles is up to something momentous, since he warrants a cover next month; Georges Jeanty has said that we may soon have reason to sing Aluwyn's praises, so some sort of intervention by her is probably forthcoming.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 5th November 2010 17:37 (UTC)

I agree that I'm half-expecting the build-up with Xander to be another mislead; he seems to believe the General here, but next issue maybe he'll laugh him off and express full confidence in his friends. But maybe not... we're running out of time for plot twists and misleads, and sooner or later the real betrayer has to stand up. :-)

(Though note that both the Master and Angel have effectively already betrayed Buffy in this issue, so maybe that's actually it; maybe that final panel of Angel punching Buffy and announcing he's here as Twilight really is the capital-B Betrayal.)

As for your other points, guess we have another month to wait and see... :-)

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 5th November 2010 17:45 (UTC)

As a policy (which I don't always keep, but try to) I never read anyone else's review before writing my own. But aycheb usually has interesting things to say.

The creature looks like a lioness to me, but has a glowing green nimbus around her head which some people think is meant to represent a mane. It doesn't look like that to me; a lion's mane grows all down its shoulders, this flares out kind of like an Elizabethan ruff. Also, there's that "The queen is dead, long live the queen" phrase associated with it. That's why I see it a coded female, anyway. The forms it's taken definitely include at least one male one, however - the dog.

And: yes. :-) Dawn is great!

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 8th November 2010 20:21 (UTC)

If I review, I recommend that you avoid...will most likely contain a great deal of whiny snarking. ;-)

I did read your review, in fact; I've got no problem with reading contrary views if they're well-expressed. (As opposed to just being snarky for the sake of being hateful, which I'm afraid some people seem to fall prey to.) The trouble is, if I replied I'd probably want to write a line-by-line refutation of everything you said, which probably wouldn't end well. ;-)

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 8th November 2010 21:25 (UTC)

Not sure if you just told me it was well-expressed or snarky for the sake of being hateful?

The first. The second would have been a pretty rude thing to say to someone...

And in general, nobody who takes the time and effort to write a full-length review of something, even if they disliked it, can be said to have been "hateful for the sake of it". I'm thinking more of the dismissive drive-by comments you sometimes see people making here and there, especially the ones made by people who openly admit they haven't actually read the comics but are going by second- and third-hand reports of the contents.

Posted by: Elena (moscow_watcher)
Posted at: 7th November 2010 21:11 (UTC)

Interesting review.

So we enter the room with the Seed, and ooh look, it's just like in the vision in 'Anywhere But Here'.

I wonder if you fund important that the room is dilapidated here but looks restored in the vision that supposedly shows events in the future.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 8th November 2010 20:27 (UTC)

To be honest, I tend not to read a huge amount into slight differences like that. One artist draws a scene nearly three years ago, another artist - who's under a tight deadline and has a whole lot of other pages to draw - draws it slightly differently.

Sure, you can fanwank it: what Buffy saw was a vision, which might well have been distorted; on the other hand, breaking the Seed might release a rush of creative energy which magically restores the chamber it's in. We'll have to see. :-) (But I'm guessing the first is more likely than the second.)

Posted by: Elena (moscow_watcher)
Posted at: 8th November 2010 21:19 (UTC)

You're most likely right. I just feel a bit frustrated with the necessity to wait another month so I entertain myself with theories.

Yet, in current issue Jeanty added the cross Buffy wore on her neck in Moline's flashforward - apparently, he studied the panel.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 8th November 2010 21:29 (UTC)

That's true - though it could be that he added the cross after he'd already drawn the panels. That would be pretty quick and easy to do, whereas changing the background would have meant scrapping and re-doing entire pages.

I think we sometimes underestimate just how much work is involved in drawing an entire 22-page comic for a monthly deadline; there probably just isn't time to get every last little detail right.

Posted by: Elena (moscow_watcher)
Posted at: 8th November 2010 21:36 (UTC)

Agree. Especially in Jossverse where every detail may end up an important clue. ;)

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: 8th November 2010 12:56 (UTC)

I'm not sure whether Willow's red glow is the same as in S6, or whether it's the seed, or whether they are both the same(?). About the sworn protector, I thought Willow was appointing herself. If Twilight and Buffy are depowered in the caves, and the Master is still just a vampire (albeit old and powerful), then Willow is a far more powerful and presumably effective guardian.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 8th November 2010 20:33 (UTC)

Willow's red glow certainly looked to me simply like the reflection of the Seed's radiance on her face. She's in a room where the only light source is bright red, and we know from other examples that the artist likes to show that effect (yellow firelight, green glow from Miss Kitty's halo, reflected on Willow and Angel respectively). It didn't remind me of 'Seeing Red', although I can see it now people have mentioned it.

It could be that Willow is empowering herelf here rather than someone else, true. I just didn't think it was her usual modus operandi; Willow tends to see herself as mostly a supporter rather than a primary actor.

Posted by: ubi4soft (ubi4soft)
Posted at: 8th November 2010 19:59 (UTC)

Wow, you had a lot to say about the plot-confusing issue (all bets are off re: deaths and betrayals).

And poor Angel is getting beaten up and abused by his darling daughter.
I think it's his son, just because Connor killed Jasmine and Buffy will kill Twilight (I hope)

I don't think the bug was misogynistic, just disappointed that "his" majesty was a regular worker.

I liked Buffy and Spike fighting together, you know, because waaay back in the first arc Buffy asked Satsu "you fight with me, not next to me".

I'd ask you to consider the time (or opportunity) to write something about the empowerment spell vs S8 (consequences bad/good or open opportunities for external forces or what you will see fit if you'll find any) I'm not good at writing, but many people in fandom are upset.

Thank you for your time writing the review

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 8th November 2010 21:17 (UTC)

I did write more than I expected! Really it's because I just re-read the issue as I do the review and keep seeing things to mention. :-)

I don't think the bug was misogynistic, just disappointed that "his" majesty was a regular worker.

I read it more that the bug was disappointed that a male leader - "His Majesty" - was in fact only the follower of a female Queen Bee. My mind conjured up a group of rebellious Men's Libbers, on the run from their oppressive matriarchal society, hailing Spike as their saviour who will lead them to true gender equality. :D

Do you have any thoughts on what swearword έ!#$ is meant to represent? @$$ is obviously "ass". I actually interpreted it as "bitch" - έ for b, ! for i, # for t and $ for "ch" rather than "s".

something about the empowerment spell vs S8

I did just write something over at Buffyforums, actually, which expresses my feelings as they stand right now:

The message is not that the spell was wrong, but that it had consequences - some good, some bad.

If you empower a group of people, then by the very definition of the word they're going to start using their power in ways you can't control or predict. If you give people the power to make a choice, then some of them are going to make choices you don't agree with. Empowerment leads to conflict and chaos, by its very nature. That doesn't make it bad, and isn't an argument in favour of slavery - it is an argument in favour of being realistic, and not giving way to starry-eyed idealism that everything will be perfect after you change the world.

That's the overriding message of the season, in my eyes.

The problem is, I'm kind of in a holding pattern until I see how the story ends. What I'd really like to see is a scene in the last issue where all the Slayers Buffy empowered somehow come together to play a decisive role in the final battle. That would show that while the empowerment spell had its problems, it also made the world a better place. Or maybe Buffy will find a new solution that addresses the big problem of the Slayer spell - that it only empowered 2,000 girls instead of all of humanity. The trouble is, I'm worried that the writers' desire to focus back on the main characters again will mean they won't think to give a part to the other Slayers. (And also that they might make this season end in tragedy, not triumph, to set up Season 9.)

If they don't address the issue at all, then I will be disappointed. I'm not going to attribute it to malice or a deliberate abandonment of feminism to please the mythical "audience of teenage fanboys" some people think Dark Horse is playing to; but even if they don't address the issue simply out of lack of space and not thinking it's important enough, that will still be a let-down. but we'll have to wait and see. 19 January 2011, Buffy's 30th birthday...

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