StephenT (stormwreath) wrote,

(Review) BtVS 8.39 'Last Gleaming' Part 4

I had to struggle through snow that came halfway up to my knees to get this issue of Season 8. I hope you all appreciate my sacrifice. :-)

So - now we know who dies and who is betrayed.

The episode starts with a grand climactic fight scene with both Slayers and soldiers dying in gruesome ways at the hands of demons, while Faith i kicking ass in the middle of it all. I thought it was a good touch to show that before cutting to the more personal confrontation between Buffy and Angel, and Willow's all-too-brief moment of apotheosis.

When Buffy says "It's different than before. Now we can hurt each other." I take it she's referring to when they fought back in 8.34, before the destiny sex. Her words have a double meaning, of course, because the hurt that Angel's going to inflict on her in this episode wll be worse than physical.

Interesting character dynamics at work in the scene where Spike intervenes. He's coming to help Buffy, as you'd expect, but I think he's also a little bit glad to get a decent excuse to pummel Angel. "Chosen a side" isn't really accurate, of course, given that Angel is, we assume, possessed, but why let that get in the way of a good brawl?
Angel, on the other hand, demonstrates why he can be so scary. It's not enough for him to simply kill Spike: he wants to watch him die slowly as the sun burns him. This form of death parallels Spike's previous death in 'Chosen', of course - and the mischevious part of me notes that Angel wants Spike to die in his arms. His actions here foreshadow what he does to Giles too, of course.

The question can be asked as to why Angel does this. We're assuming he's possessed and controlled by his New Universe daughter - but presumably Kitty Twilight's aim is simply to get possession of the Seed using him as her agent. That certainly means removing any obstacles in their path, such as Buffy herself, but surely not taking time out to watch Spike fry. That surely has to come from Angel himself, or at least from the Angelus part of his character. So what happened to Angel's soul?

The answer, I think, goes as follows. Angel is indeed possessed by Twilight, and seeks to do her (/his/its) bidding. He's not a mindless automaton, though; he still has his own personality if not his own will. But - Twilight is currently soulless, because the Seed of Wonder is her soul and she doesn't currently have possession of it. So Angel is possessed by a soulless creature; therefore he acts as though he were soulless himself.

Buffy, meanwhile, is in emotional turmoil even though on the surface she's still striving to maintain her usual air of insouciance. "Oh God. I liked it better when you were kissing" sounds more exasperated than anything else; she has to intervene, like a parent, between the boys and their antics. And incidentally, save Spike's life by knocking him to safety. I'm taking it she wasn't anticipating the spaceship catching him, simply that he'd fall down out of the sunlight once Angel had to let go of him.

The kissing line is a back-reference to her dream in 'Always Darkest' (and quite possibly to many other dreams she's had); Spike's muttered "I'm fairly certain I never mentioned..." is both extremely funny, a nice call-back to 'Power Play', and proof that even in such a crisis, he can retain his cool.

 Buffy apparently wasn't very impressed by Angel's 'Twilight' act earlier in the season, and now she blames herself for everything that's going wrong. "Some cosmic vengeance that I had coming." Of course, there are a lot of people in fandom who would agree with her on that. There are also a lot of people who think that we're supposed to agree with her, and are currently getting all angry with Joss Whedon for writing a story with that as its theme. Personally, I think this is just Buffy being completely in-character and shouldering all the blame herself - but not, you'll notice, letting it get in the way of doing her duty.

As for whether she is to blame for what's going on - I'd say yes, kind of, in the same sense that Duchess Sophie von Hohenberg was responsible for the outbreak of the First World War. (*Wonders how many people will get that reference.*)

When Spike says "Angel gets the girl" I understand that as being "He kills her" but deliberately alluding to the language of romance novels, of which Season 8 is a parody. As for "finally happening", in a sense there's a meta-fandom context to it. Buffy and Angel went off to be stars of their own TV shows, and later comics series, so in a way it as kind of inevitable that they'd have to get together in some sort of huge knock-down fight to see who would win.

Flash to Xander for a moment - but also a scene of Slayers (specifically, Kennedy) and soldiers fighting side by side, to emphasise that this crisis has brought all the humans together. Dawn appears to be on her feet again, so she isn't dead (unless that's the surprise twist in the final issue.) Xander has lost hope that Buffy will win this time, which could be described as a betrayal of her.

At this point, enter Giles and the cavalry. Alongside the Slayers and the soldiers, now even demons have joined the fight to save the Earth. A very nice touch is that these specific demons are the same species Buffy was fighting way back in 'The Long Way Home' - and the ones Giles went to negotiate with to ask if they knew anything about the Twilight symbol.

This can be seen a couple of different ways. Either it's uplifting - all the races of Earth uniting to fight the common enemy - or it's worrying: Giles is willing to do a deal with the devil, or at least with demons, to achieve his goals. Or it's both, of course.

Andrew gets a cameo too; he saves Leah's life when a fire-breathing dragon incinerates a group of Slayers. It's a neat but nasty touch that the demons the Slayers were fighting are unharmed by the fire, but can be seen standing there amidst the charred skeletons when the flames die down. They're also apparently bio-mechanical in nature, with technological rather than organic wings.

Now it's Willow's turn. Back when the preview was released questions were asked as to why the Master was in chains; we see here that it's simply that Willow chained him up because she thought she would make a better Guardian of the Seed than him. All the elements of her character are in full force here: her playfulness and love of language, her arrogance, her sense of wonder, the way she can go from adorable to scary in half a second. Specifically, notice that the spells she casts kill the dragon and the demons who just wiped out Leah's squad of Slayers (and were about to wipe out her and Andrew, by the looks of things.)

Willow sees herself as Guardian of the Earth now, embodying its "soul and life". It's quite disturbing, however, that the living creatures on the Earth are dismissed by her as "little things that crawl" - that's us you're talking about, Willow! Becoming a goddess means losing your connection to humanity; something that stands as one of the themes of the entire season.

At this point Willow is attacked by a giant vagina monster. I, um, don't know if the visual reference is deliberate... although the monster does appear just as she says "You attacked Mother" which might imply that it is. Willow has bonded with the Earth Mother of this plane in her defence; and is facing off against a giant distorted parody of femininity.

Here Angel comments that Willow "Thinks she can win this fight" - he doesn't comment on whether her belief is realistic, because according to him that's not the point. Willow is trying to defend the Seed and the world; Angel's aim is to take the Seed to the new universe, at which point it won't matter what happens to the Earth.

Giles comes to get the Scythe from Faith so he can give it to Buffy... the fact that Faith hands it over without demur is actually a pretty big deal for her. It's not really been explained why she had it in the first place; was it just a coincidence, because Buffy dropped it when she was zapped by the vengeful earth goddess, and Faith was the one who picked it up? Or were Faith and Giles trying deliberately to keep it out of Buffy's way until they knew which way she'd turn on the whole "Twilight wants the Seed" question?

The demon melting the bodies of those Slayers is a particularly nasty one. Faith presumably survives because she's got main-cast character privilege, the same way Spike and Angel can withstand sunlight for longer than a no-name no-dialogue vampire can, so all she gets is a bloody nose. I wonder if the other Slayers are dead now, or somehow zombified?

And now we see that Amy and Warren have skedaddled from the fight, and are enjoying a light lunch and bottle of red wine at an open-air café in St Mark's Square in Venice. I assume Warren's cowboy outfit is supposed to be some sort of disguise. Amy comes across as rather more sympathetic than he does here; she's feeling a little guilty about leaving the others, and seems wistful when she comment on how Andrew has found a place with the Scoobies now. Warren is merely dismissive and contemptuous of the man he once called a friend. The scene also reminds us of the detail of Amy's magic acting as Warren's skin, so we won't be surprised by what's about to happen to him.

Incidentally, there's been a big argument the past month or two on how extensive the devastation has been due to Buffy and Angel bonking in 8.35. We saw Andrew and Dawn reporting on volcanoes and seaquakes erupting all over the world, then we saw demons pouring out of rips in the sky, and several scenes of battles raging and cities laid waste. Many people concluded from this that the destruction must have been immense: a poll on Buffyforums showed the majority of people there were guessing the human deathtoll was in the millions or even hundreds of millions.

Set against that was the fact that with very few exceptions, the comic never actually showed innocent people being killed. The battles were all Slayers fighting demons, not demons slaughtering helpless civilians. In fact Buffy herself assumed that the demons would be specifically targetting Slayers. The question is, were we not being shown scenes of the wider effects of the crisis because the writers and artist didn't think to include them, or because in fact the destruction *was* only affecting Slayers and the army and a few unfortunates caught in the cross-fire, rather than being total?

And now we get this scene. A peaceful piazza in Venice with tourists and locals calmly going about their business. A woman is sitting at a table in the cafe reading a book; a couple of tourists are taking a photograph of the Campanile (I assume, based on the angles). If the world is ending, the news clearly hasn't reached Italy yet. Setting the scene in Venice is particularly clever, because if the seaquakes in the Arctic Ocean had really triggered a series of tsunamis laying waste to all of Europe, I imagine St Mark's Square would have been underwater by now.... In other words, this scene proves that the more exaggerated guesses about the death toll were just that - exaggerated.

Willow's spell she's about to cast at the vagina monster and its friend sounds to me vaguely like Ancient Egyptian - in fact, 'neteru' is Egyptian for 'god' or 'goddess'. I don't suppose anyone on my highly erudite flist actually speaks Ancient Egyptian, do they, and can confirm? :-)

Andrew says "All the planes are down" - effectively, that's the same thing that would have happened in 'The Gift' if Buffy or Dawn hadn't jumped off the tower. Back then, it took a death to stop the apocalypse; it will here too. I wonder how badly hurt he was by the demon punching him? Also, nice to see Kennedy being concerned about him. Where's all the Kennedy-Andrew buddyfic and bonding stories, hmm?

On a side-note, if I were Willow and had the power of flight, I'd probably choose to wear trousers rather than a skirt all the time. Just saying. :-)

And the fight shfts to the Seed chamber. When Angel tells Buffy "You created a world. You can't turn away from it" did everybody else get the impression that this was talking metaphorically about Joss and the Buffyverse? (Especially given that it's Dark Horse's editor-in-chief who wrote this particular issue; maybe Angel was expressing Scott's thoughts to Joss. :D ) Though from the violence in the scene and the way Angel is kicking Buffy around, it's clear that Joss's relationship with the world he created is not exactly a smooth one either...

Angel kills the Master, and the way Buffy takes a moment to congratulate him for doing that mid-fight is adorable. I wonder if it's significant that Angel kills his grandsire the same way that Connor killed his daughter?

Xander is watching the fight. In one sense, it's perhaps disappointing that he doesn't get a moment of cool heroics here at the climactic moment; but from another point of view, that's never bene his role on the show. He's the Everyman, or the Chorus in the Shakespearian sense, there to give us a point of reference and the ordinary person's perspective on the things going on around him... plus to give emotional support to the hero, which is what Iimagine his big moment will be next issue.

This is Giles's moment, however. He's brought the Scythe to give it to Buffy, because while her power is limited in the presence of the Seed, the Scythe instead is enhanced by it. We were told earlier that Giles was looking for a weapon to kill a God; it seems he's found it.

The trouble is, he doesn't think Buffy will be willing to use it. She won't kill Angel, or at least she'll hesitate - and presumably, with Angel being a powerful as her and actively fighting her, he'd use the moment of hesitation to grab the Scythe? And so he goes to "get between those two".

I think this is a quite deliberate and knowing moment of self-sacrifice. He believes that only by this action will Buffy be sufficiently motivated to end the battle, without further hesitation. Which, indeed, is exactly what happens.

We've come full circle from 'The Gift'. In that episode, Giles took it upon himself to kill Ben because he didn't think Buffy could bring herself to do it. Here, he lets himself be killed because, again, he doesn't think she'd otherwise bring herself to kill Angel. It's kind of a karmic return, seen in that sense.

It's also, of course, an extremely heroic, noble and self-sacrificial deed... and one that's not unproblematic. Giles is manipulating Buffy into doing his will, the same way Angel has been doing all season, "for her own good" - though the difference of course is the price Giles is willing to pay in return.

The problem is, Buffy doesn't kill Angel - she breaks the Seed. I honestly don't know if that was part of Giles's plan, or if it was the exact opposite from what he hoped to achieve. In which case, his attempt to manipulate Buffy was foiled by her exercise of free will - although she isn't exactly acting in a clear-headed manner here, understandably enough. I don't think she knew what effect breaking the Seed would have, personally - I think she just saw it as the cause of all her problems. She was lashing out in pain and rage.

A thought occurred to me that back in 'The Long Way Home', Ethan Rayne was killed. Now Giles is dead too. People who believe in an afterlife can draw comfort from that; they're reunited again. :-) Was it foreshadowing?

So what happens when the Seed of Wonder is broken? It has one good effect: the demons are dragged back up into the sky and out through the dimensional portals again. butthe overall effect is presented as being destructive. Buffy says something wordless, perhaps a call-back to the notorious space sex scene?

As Willow clutches her head and screams, we get a montage of 13 shocked-looking young women. I don't know if they're reacting to seeing Willow, but I interpret it differently. This is the Season 8 equivalent in reverse of the montage in 'Chosen', but these are Wiccans all over the world suddenly losing all their powers. We see a specific scene too, in what appears to be New York - showing that not all the Slayers were either killed or took refuge in Tibet. *waves to Vi*

As I predicted, the end of magic results in Warren's immediate and extremely messy death. (In as much as he was alive before, of course.) I can't say I'm heartbroken, though, although Amy seems to be.

Willow, on the other hand, is looking at the end of her world. From her perspective, they just lost the battle; and it's hard to see a scene where a whole group of women are disempowered as being any kind of victory. She may have lost more than that too, given how far she fell and Kennedy's "Baby-- baby, lie still, I think you broke--" Broke what?

I've a nasty feeling, given the twisted way she's lying with her legs stretched out uselessly along the ground, that the answer his 'her spine' and without magic she's looking at spending the rest of her life in a wheelchair. But we'll see next issue. (Obviously by the time of 'Fray' she's fully mobile, not to mention 200 years old, but that might not be 'this' Willow.)

I don't imagine a crippled and powerless Willow will be very happy when she discovers it was Buffy who broke the seed... Kennedy comes off extremely well in this scene, though. Concerned and supportive.

Willow is crying out franticly for Aluwyn when Kennedy finds her, because the bond has been broken and Aluwyn won't be able to contact the Earth again. I know some people have interpreted theri relationship as an illicit love affair, which makes it rather tactless of Willow to be calling for Aluwyn in front of Kennedy. I don't really interpret it that way, though: I think it was much more a mentor-student relationship. (Which, as the ancient Greeks would tell you, could well be sexual, but sex wasn't the purpose of it.)

The obvious parallel here is that both Willow and Buffy have lost their primary mentor figures, and will have to go forward into the rest of their lives without their support. It's all bvery symbolic of coming of age - the nasty part of it, compared to the empowerment part that was Season 7's metaphor.

Spike gets to be all admiring of Buffy's achievement - of course, he never doubts for a moment that Buffy was the one to save the world, and makes sure his crew understands that too. Then just like in 'Chosen' he leaves to "do the clean-up" - chase after one of the giant demons which slipped away instead of getting called through the portal. Since he's flying after the giant vagina monster that Willow was fighting earlier, if I were crude I might say that Spike left to chase pussy instead of sticking around - but I'm not (and this isn't an IDW comic) so I won't. :-)  I'm sure much has already been written arguing over whether Spike is "leaving to be his own man and do something heroic" or "leaving Buffy in the lurch because Joss hates Spuffy". Or, in fact, whether he might show up in the next episode all pleased after having killed the monster. :-)

The final page shows us the scene from the prophecy in 'Anywhere But Here', and now we know why Buffy is crying. What's new is that Xander is there to go to her and try to comfort her - which, really, is Xander's distinctive brand of heroism. There's a strong reminder of 'Prophecy Girl' here - not only the set-up but the architecture, the dry ice, and the fact that Angel is being useless.

I actually feel really sorry for Angel here, going by his imploring expression. It's clear that breaking the Seed returned him to his normal self, and he bitterly regrets what he's done. But given Xander's reaction, I don't think the forgiveness he wants will be quick in coming, from anybody.

I know a lot of people have said that Joss has "ruined Angel" this season - but in a way, I think what this does is distill him down to his purest essence. Angel is the monster who tries to walk like a man. He's the sinner seeking redemption; the one who did great evil but now tries to help the helpless, not in a crude 'balancing the scales' way but because as someone with a conscience, what else can he do?

But the problem is, his crimes were mostly all off-camera and abstract. We saw occasional flashbacks where he was dressed in a bad wig doing an worse Irish accent, and we were *told* how rotten and mean and nasty Angelus used to be, but we were never really shown it. Season 2 tried to up the scales, and by Early-Buffy standards it did to an extent - but for all she was a sympathetic character, Jenny was still only a recurring part. Now Angel has killed one of the Core Four, someone loved by (almost) everyone - and he killed him in a way which we in the audience will instantly recognise as the same way he killed Jenny, even down to the circular motif in the architecture behind him.

So before now, the question "Can we forgive Angel for his past crimes, now he's trying to be a good man?" was easy to answer. Yes of course; his evil past wasn't really dwelt on much, we never saw him doing anything really unforgiveable, it was mostly just talk. And killing Willow's goldfish, mustn't forget that. But now? Both the audience and the characters are going to have a really hard time forgiving him. And that, I respectfully submit to you, is the whole point of Angel's character arc. Winning redemption is no achievement if everybody would be happy to offer it to you.

Buffy's Scythe is broken. It was the Scythe that symbolised the empowerment in Season 7, so seeing it broken here, coupled with the depowered Wiccan montage, really rubs in the idea that we're meant to see this as a defeat. There's only one episode left in the season, and it's called 'Coda' which doesn't imply that there'll be many more plot developments, just reflection, reaction and tying up loose ends. (Though that may be a mislead.)  Most of the show's season finales were deliberately designed to work as series finales as well if the show wasn't renewed; if things end like this, it will be a pretty depressing end toth show. But (a) the mood might be reversed in the final issue, (b) we already know there's going to be a Season 9, so this isn't the end. It is, rather, the Empire Strikes Back of the 'Buffy' franchise.

Let's just hope there are no Ewoks in season 9.


Tags: buffy, season 8, season 8 review

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