StephenT (stormwreath) wrote,

(Review) BtVS 8.40 'Last Gleaming' Part 5

So; it's over. The last issue of Season 8 had a bittersweet feeling to it, which seems appropriate to the ending of something that's lasted so long and aroused so many passions, both for and against. In this review I'm going to talk about the issue itself for the most part. Reflections on the season as a whole will come later once it's had a chance to sink in.

Also, I have to confess that most of my predictions for how things would turn out in the final issue were wrong. Such is life. :-)

So, both Jo Chen's cover and the splash page mirror the opening of 'The Long Way Home'. Buffy here look tired and sad (though still strong), her arms scarred, her shirt torn and the Scythe broken. (Though not as badly broken as it really was last issue...). Instead of showing a sunrise over the Earth, the splash page shows a sunset, and the Moon rising over the darkening Earth. Technically a half-moon; it looks damaged and broken.)

And we see Buffy, a forced smile pasted on her face, a nametag on her lapel, serving coffee in a San Francisco café. How are the mighty fallen. We hear her soliloquy too, which is an effective tool of comics that I think Season 8 should probably have used more often. As far as I can tell, this isn't Buffy's voice-over from another scene (presumably the following one with Kennedy): she's actually talking directly to the audience, breaking the fourth wall to give us her commentary on the season.

She's making the best of things, which is just so typically Buffy. When the preview came out, it was noted that she's acknowledging and owning the phrase 'clinical depression' to describe what she went through in earlier seasons, which I gather is a positive thing for her to do. :-)  I'm not sure if she's referring to Season 6 with both this reference and the next one about the Doublemeat Palace uniform, or if she considers herself to have been suffering from depression in the gap between Season 2 and 3 as well, which was her other "service-industry job." Also, since I saw it being argued about elsewhere; Buffy's hat in Season 6 had a cow on the front and a chicken on the back, so this isn't a continuity error.

Buffy enjoys being able to interact with lots of cute guys again after a year or more spent in the enforced company of hundreds of women plus Xander and Andrew. Clearly, Joss is affirming her basic heterosexuality despite the experimentation of the last year... he's also implying that she sees herself as single and open to offers, which is an important development I'll come back to later. Of course, San Francisco may not entirely be the best place in the world for Buffy to reassert her straightness. :-) BtVS has been criticised for being hesitant to depict m/m relationships with the same openness and integrity it deals with f/f ones, so Buffy's brief scene in the café with the two gay men is a small but positive sign.

Then there's the encounter with the girl in the green cap. We see her in the first panel looking miserable as she studies her laptop (and do any non-Apple laptops even exist in the Buffyverse?). Now she grins evilly as she trips Buffy - and that's a deliberate kick to the back of her shin, not an accidental tangle of legs. Buffy's save of the drinks-laden tray is inspired (and fun), but it's clearly not the first time something like this has happened to her. By her expression, she thinks it's her own fault too. We'll meet the same girl again later.

Now the scene with Kennedy. As a fan of the W/K relationship - one of three, possibly four in the entire world - I can't say I'm happy to see them breaking up, but it's compelling the way it's done. Kennedy is shown very sympathetically, I think. She's furiously angry, mostly with Buffy, as you'd expect - look at the violent way she's cramming clothes into her suitcase - but she's using the anger as a shield to stop herself breaking down in tears. Unsuccessfully. I did like the way Buffy went from angry and defensive (and self-blaming) herself, to putting a comforting hand on Kennedy's shoulder.

Looking at the logistics of this scene, Buffy's still in the clothes she was wearing at the cafe (minus the waistcoat thingie), and it sounds like she's just been telling Kennedy the story of what happened to her earlier that day. We don't know how or when she found out Kennedy was leaving, although it's clear that she assumed it was Kennedy's decision, not Willow's, until informed otherwise. Did she go to visit the two of them after work, and walk in to find Kennedy in the middle of packing her bags? She doesn't really seem surprised enough for that, though I suppose it would depend on how much time elapsed between her arriving and the start of the scene we're seeing. Or did she already know about it, and came over give Kennedy moral support? Also, note that it's Kennedy who's packing up and leaving, so presumably it was Willow who owns/rents that apartment. There's a hint later that Willow is now working as a computer programmer and earning a good salary, so she could afford it. Unless they owned/rented it jointly but Kennedy - who, remember, has very wealthy parents - thought it would be easier if she was the one to move out. For that matter, we knew they were living in San Francisco before Season 8 began, as shown in the flashback in 'Goddesses and Monsters', so presumably they've had this flat a while.

There's a letter propped up on the dresser. I hope Willow didn't break up by note... not quite as bad as by text, but almost. Or has Kennedy left it there for Willow as a goodbye?

Plot-wise, it's confirmed that breaking the Seed sucked all the magic out of the world - and Kennedy at least believes that it wasn't necessary, that Buffy was the cause of everything that went wrong. Buffy isn't inclined to argue with her...

The next scene is at sunset (quite a beautiful one, too), and Buffy and Willow are discussing the situation at Fort Point. This is obviously soon after - maybe even the same day - and Buffy is doing her best to change Willow's mind and get her and Kennedy back together. Without much success: Willow's mind seems to be made up, though she's clearly sad about the whole thing. (It's worth noting that this is the first time in her entire life that Willow's been the one to chose to end one of her relationships - at least if you accept 'Wild Things' rather than 'New Moon Rising' to be the end of Willow/Oz.) For all her pose of maturity and calmness, I have to say that Willow's decision is still to a large extent based on her insecurity: without the magic, "Who was I? Just some girl. Tara Kennedy didn't even know that girl." She's also making decisions on other people's behalf without consulting them: a "pre-emptive break" because she thinks Kennedy will be happier for it in the long run, and will drift away from Willow inevitably, so why not get it over with now? For all I sympathise with Willow, I also want to swat her over the head and tell her to go running after Kennedy and bring her back. :-)  But then there's the complicating factor of Aluwyn as well...

It's nice to see that Willow and Buffy are still best friends even though it's clear there's still tension between them - if anything, Kennedy seems to have been expressing the anger on her (ex-)girlfriend's behalf. There's that little moment where Buffy admits that her role in the loss of magic comes up every time they talk; and I liked Willow's insight into what Buffy wants to hear her say. Willow also can't help smiling that even at a time like this, Buffy can't help but joke. It's clear Willow is mourning more than just the loss of her own power and that of the other Wiccans, though: the world has lost its heart, and in the long term, that might be worse than it being destroyed. Previous issues referred to the Seed as the soul of the world; now the world has no soul. That can't be good... But I expect what it actually means will be explored further in Season 9. Has the Earth now been set on its course towards the ugly dystopia of Fray's world, or even ultimately to the destruction that caused people to abandon Earth-That-Was entirely in 'Firefly'? Or has Willow's own loss coloured her perceptions, and things aren't as bad as she thinks, and she's about to do something very silly in Season 9? Time will tell. Buffy, however, seems to be inclining to the view that breaking the Seed was a mistake.

I've noticed that in the issues of Season 8 he writes, Joss does like to throw in occasional sly bits of Buffy/Willow subtext. In 'Turbulence' it was "Doing it with Willow was scary"; here it's more overt:

WILLOW: The fact is... there's someone else. I didn't realise it - or I kidded myself - for a long time. But now...
BUFFY: Uhhh...
WILLOW: It's not you, dumbass.

Sure, it's not Buffy that Willow is currently in love with; but it's revealing that the very first conclusion Buffy jumps to is that it *is* her. :-)  But it's not: it's Aluwyn. I know a lot of people were talking during the course of the season about Willow 'having an affair' with Saga Vasuki; I never really saw it that way, and this passage confirms that Willow didn't see it that way either - not at the time. Aluwyn was her mentor, not her lover, even if apparently the sort of magics and self-exploration she was doing sometimes involved advanced nakedness. But her feelings eventually betrayed her.

Will Kennedy appear in Season 9, or have we seen the last of her? On a similar note, we don't see Satsu in this issue either.

Buffy is having nightly nightmares of Giles's death and Angel's reaction to it - assuming her dream is accurate, Angel didn't even know what he'd done while under the influence of Twilight. At this point, we discover that Xander and Dawn are living together, and Buffy is sleeping on their sofa until she can find a place of her own. Back a couple of issues ago, when Xander told Dawn his dream of them getting a place together so she could go back to university while he got a construction job to support them, it seemed like the kind of wish that gets you killed in short order in the average war film. Subverting the cliché, this time it actually came true. Dawn was at the University of California at Berkeley before she became a giant; given that Berkeley is half an hour's drive from San Francisco it seems likely she's back there now. Although Buffy apparently doesn't know what Dawn's "schooling" involves, so maybe she's doing something strange that will be revealed in S8 instead?

Xander's wearing a collar and tie and holding a blueprint, so it seems he's still in construction management rather than back to being a humble carpenter, even if he's talking about spackling drywall. The apartment has lots of geeky touches: a Cookie Monster, The Thing coffee mugs, a shelf of action figures. He's definitely the grown-up here, very reminiscent of his part in 'Lessons' in S7. Dawn is being more playful: her actually saying "Poke poke" as she prods Buffy awake seems to becoming a trademark of her, like in an earlier Joss-penned issue where she said "Cough" rather than, you know, coughing; and the way she clasps her hands together swooningly when she says "you're my hero", with a huge grin. That fades when she's alone with Buffy.

The interaction between the two sisters had the right blend of awkward bickering, intimacy and begrudging affection. I get the impression it's not the ideal situation for Buffy to be crashing on her sofa even if Dawn is at pains to assure her she likes having her around... and of couse there's the later scene to bear in mind. :-)  I'm amused to discover that Buffy has told Dawn about her dream of Angel and Spike "Getting it awwn" - presumably a reference to 'Always Darkest' rather than the nurse-in-chains sex fantasy of earlier. There's also an implication that the dream has become a recurring one for her... And we get a bit more of the background: "No more fight", "No more gang". Everyone's gone their separate ways, it seems; and Buffy feels like she's the only one left.

Also, Harmony's TV show has been cancelled - presumably, she can't turn any more vampires, so the appeal wore off - but she's still a TV celebrity, appearing in the American remake of Strictly Come Dancing. The later reveal that Spike was a fan of the show - until Harmony started appearing on it and ruined it for him - is highly amusing and totally predictable.

The next cameo was unexpected - I wasn't really expecting to see the General again. However, they did need a scene like this to tie up the loose ends. Buffy was a wanted terrorist, and assuming she's not going to be one in Season 9 they did need some kind of conclusion - like the one in 'Primeval' - where a group of government guys can look all formal and say, "We're not going to go after Buffy anymore because of blah blah bladiblah."

Someone should tell the General that the world is "dispersed" not "disbursed". Oh wait they can't because Simone shot him. That was even more unexpected even though I'd already seen the panel of her firing a gun in the previews...

Now the flashback to Giles's funeral... and I assume this whole section of the comic is out of sequence and happening much earlier than the rest of the issue. Buffy is dumbstruck that Giles made Faith his heir - I was pretty surprised too, although it makes sense once explained. I assume her shock was because of the implication that Giles didn't care about her as much as about Faith - it felt like a rejection - rather than because she was upset at not getting any of Giles's money. Or his farm, or his horses... that's another reference to 'Lessons' where we saw him riding, while the london flat appeared in 'No Future For You' Presumably Giles had no other close living relatives? Also, a minor point but I think this is the first time that Faith's surname has actually been mentioned in a canon source.

Talk about going back to square one: all Giles leaves to Buffy is that book with 'Vampyr' on the cover from 'Welcome to the Hellmouth'. Is it meant to be the original Slayer's Handbook, maybe? I wasn't sure why Faith was throwing clothes around like that until I realised she was searching through the closet to find the book. She clearly thinks it's a highly symbolic gift, anyway. It was nice to see the two of them respecting each other even if they're not exactly friends.

This scene also hits on the core question of Season 8: was Buffy's empowerment of the other Slayers a mistake? Faith seems to think so... or at least, she's much more aware of the bad side of it, of how much harm it did to the people caught up in events beyond their control. Buffy thinks she's failed... not just, I think, because now there will be no more Slayers so the empowerment came to nothing, but because of Faith's implication that she never really empowered them at all. That she was always "The Slayer... the only Slayer." How much was her leadership worth, if the women she was supposed to be lifting up to her level never actually got there?

So this would mark the lowest point of the comic... I don't think it's a coincidence that we then see what's happened to Angel. He's kind of a stand-in for Buffy's own state of mind. Apparently the sheer horror of what he did - not only killing Giles but the whole Season 8 plot arc - has driven him into a catatonic fugue, much like the one Buffy was in at the end of Season 5. (Which is why I make the link between them.) I'm not sure what the blood is doing on his face... symbolically it would be Giles's blood that he refuses to wash off as a mark of shame ("Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my face? No; this my face will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine”) although I'm not sure that's actually feasible practically, given the timing. Unless it's a magic curse of some sort.

It seems that Buffy does want Angel to recover, but as Faith says, she can't actually bear to look at him now let alone have him around. But Faith has volunteered to help him recover, which is both a sign of her character growth and a wonderful call-back to 'Sanctuary'. If anyone owes this to Angel, it's Faith. (And yes, for the record, I do see Angel as a victim this season - a victim of his own hubris and credulity to some extent, granted, but still a victim.)

So, Buffy is at her lowest ebb emotionally, blaming herself for all the woes of the world. (Symbolically - like I said, I think the scene with Faith, which takes place in London, is actually set several months earlier than the rest of the issue.) What happens next? What always happens at such moments, of course. Spike comes to give her moral support. (and I'm sure it's not accidental that the scenes with the two vampires were placed side by side like this.)

It's clearly not the first time he's come to visit - "Are you parked on the roof again?" - and ironically enough, he's apparently playing the same role that Angel did in the first season of the show. The mysterious and annoyingly-gorgeous stranger who shows up occasionally to tell Buffy that she's in grave danger, then vanishes into the shadows again. Buffy is unwelcoming; she hasn't even invited him in. (She claims it's not her house, but that in turn simply says she hasn't told Dawn or Xander that Spike is coming around at night.) She also says sarcastically, ""Why did we ever break up?" which I'm sure will be a much-analysed comment. Officially, of course, they broke up at the end of 'As You Were'; I think it's reasonable to assume that, whatever the state of their relationship in S7 or whether Buffy was telling the truth when she said "I love you" in 'Chosen', in her mind their relationship status was still officially 'broken up'. Spike ignores all Buffy's isolationist Slayer crap and gives her the pep talk: even if she made a mistake, (a) she got through it and pulled her people through (all but one, anyway) (b) she did far better than anyone else could have in her situation.

At this point Buffy breaks down in tears and makes a hasty exit. I assume it's because Spike has just done what Willow was unwilling to do: tell her what she needed to hear. But she still can't face it (or herself) and retreats - and the woman who, when tripped unexpectedly the previous day managed to catch a tray full of drinks on her foot, this time falls headlong when just trying to climb over a windowsill. Buffy's Slayer powers have always depended on her mental focus. :-) I'm also reminded of the scene with Kennedy, the other woman to start crying in this issue - and who. like Buffy, was trying to shield her emotions with anger rater than give in to them. I think it's a deliberate parallel.

So Spike flies off in his "dirigible run by insects" - which is presumably technological rather than magical, since it can still fly - leaving Buffy alone. And very conscious that she's alone. The impression I got from this scene is that they're setting up Buffy and Spike to be supportive friends (with extra added sarcasm and weird defensiveness) in Season 9 rather than lovers. He's her dark place, but she thinks of herself as single (and lonely). But then again, I did compare his current role to that of Angel in S1, and we all know what happened next... even if Buffy isn't a naive schoolgirl anymore.

I admit the next scene had me laughing out loud. First the look of sheer horror on Buffy's face as she thinks she's overhearing her sister having sex; her frantic scramble to leave the house and go patrolling as Dawn's running commentary goes to entirely new places... and then the reveal that Dawn was faking the whole thing as a joke, while Xander was in the shower and couldn't hear her. Buffy's afterthought that "If I didn't know Dawnie better I'd swear she was doing that on purpose" was the icing on the cake. I do wonder if Dawn was purely being mischievous and winding Buffy up, or whether her earlier protestation that Buffy was welcome to stay there isn't entirely true and she's trying to drive her away... or even if she was pre-emptively driving Buffy out of the flat so she could make those noises for real a little later, without feeling inhibited by her sister's presence. :-) Or maybe she thought going patrolling would do Buffy good, and she was being all wise and insightful?

Buffy's five-minutes-to-midnight pose was iconic, and is also very similar to Melaka's pose at the end of 'Fray'. When I saw the preview I did think it could be the last scene in the comic. Instead she gets attacked by a group of ex-Slayers who also think she's betrayed them, led by the one who tripped her. (Whom Buffy recognises.)

I know it's standard American vernacular but the expression "granola-munching ass" still looks weird to me, conjuring up all sorts of horrible images. It's evident that Buffy has heard "the speech" before - and that the Slayers who were so enthusiastic and hero-worshipping of her before are reacting with wounded hurt and anger. I think there's a bit of fudging here: they still have their powers, so would the fact that no new Slayers are being created anymore bother them so much? Except, presumably, on a symbolic level; they were creating a new, better future but now they can't. Plus, Buffy really did disempower all the world's Wiccans, and the (ex-)Slayers are angry on their behalf too.

So if they're not calling themselves Slayers, what are they calling themselves? It's kind of frustrating not being told. Maybe Joss hasn't decided yet? But they decide to teach Buffy a lesson - and in a scene which echoes the similar three-on-one fight from the first arc, Buffy easily defeats them. Mostly by letting them use their strength against each other - ducking so the one with the baseball bat hits her friend instead, using one of them as a weapon herself, jumping up so one of them slams into a steel box.

Then for the third time in the entire series she calls herself 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' (the others being 'Anne' and 'Help') in a moment of affirmation. And we segue into the final montage, as she soliloquises about betrayal.

  • Willow is looking at an image of Saga Vasuki, while surrounded by a huge pile of old-looking books. They're not computer programming manuals either. Looks to me like she's trying to research a way to bring magic back, or open a portal to another dimension. (Aluwyn's dimension, of course.)
  • The fairy's back! I did think "Awww", even if she does have a habit of laying eggs in people's ear canals. So did the end of magic force her out of the (magical) caverns below the world into the human city?
  • Simone has a list of targets, including the General, and Buffy's number three on her list. I didn't recognise the first, unless perhaps he was "the Suit" from the first arc?
  • The bloodsoaked guy with the round glasses is presumably foreshadowing for Season 9.

And the season ends in classic style: Buffy slaying a vampire in an alley. And repeating the last line of 'Not Fade Away', which was kind of ironic.

As for the message we're left with, it's bittersweet, as I said back at the start:

"The trouble with changing the world is... you don't.
"Not all at once. You just inch it forward, a bit at a time, and watch it slip back. Like the Greek guy with the rock. And you hope that when you're done, you've moved it up a little. Changed it just enough. You hope."

'Chosen' was a triumphant, optimistic ending. A feminist fairytale of empowerment, striding forward into the bright shining uplands. If Season 8 has a message at all, I think it's "The real world doesn't work that way." Which is not a good thing; we'd all rather live in a world where we could live happily ever after, wouldn't we? The real world is often filled with disappointments and compromises and lost opportunities. Every revolution comes with its terror; every idol has feet of clay. But does that mean we should just give up? If the empowerment of 'Chosen' didn't turn out to be a storybook happy ending after all, but to bring bad along with the good, does that mean it was all a big mistake after all?

Buffy wouldn't think so. Buffy regrets her mistakes, mourns her dead, and then adopts to her new situation and makes the best of it. She carries on, just like the world does.

"Let's go to work."


Tags: buffy, meta, review, season 8, season 8 review
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