StephenT (stormwreath) wrote,
StephenT
stormwreath

(Review) BtVS 9.01 'Freefall' Part I

And here it is. Buffy Season Nine, episode 1, written by Joss. Very funny, occasionally downright silly, with a few hints of darkness and a few mysteries - though nothing so extreme as the 8.01 Giant Dawn reveal, you'll mostly all be glad to know. Not a lot of deep content, though: I'm reminded of the first half of 'The Freshman'. Buffy's kind of drifting and needs to Get Her Groove Back, which will probably happen in about the third issue.
So here we go!


We open on a close-up of Buffy's bloodshot eyes, and pull back to reveal her lying in bed. Or rather half-hanging off the bed, her head dangling down over the end of it and her feet somewhere near the pillow. She's naked, there's a rather mannish-looking thick leather belt and some tan-coloured trousers on the bed next to her, and the room is an absolute mess: the lamp knocked over, beer cans and wine bottles everywhere, an open chip wrapper with soeone's half-eaten supper, and various other items of clothing draped over furniture or scattered over the floor. The room is wrecked, and so quite frankly is Buffy: she can't remember a thing about what heppened. The rest of the issue is her fragmented memories of last night's party, interspersed with a few other events happening in real-time up to the end of the following night.
 
Next comes a flashback to the start of the party. It's established that this is Buffy's housewarming; she's finally moved into her new apartment after crashing on Dawn and Xander's couch for the last few months. Those two are the first to arrive, and my first thought is that there's some sort of strain there with Xander. He doesn't find Buffy's jokey welcoming comment funny ("Hi honey, I'm home! More importantly, it's not your home!"); he expresses keen interest in the beer and punch because "he doesn't want to feel this awkward all night", and his response to Buffy's offer to show him her new bedroom, while in character ("Maturity causes me not to joke at this point. Please note the time and date.") is also expressed very seriously, not light-heartedly.
 
Dawn, meanwhile, seems quite happy and relaxed, and curious to snoop around her sister's new house and find out about her roommates. Whatever's wrong with Xander, if anything, doesn't affect her. I liked the little touch that it's Dawn who introduces both herself and her boyfriend to the others at the party; she's getting into this whole "couple" thing.
 
We also get to meet Anaheed and Tumble, Buffy's roommates who are apparently going to become fleshed-out characters this season. And possibly die horribly later on, this being a Joss Whedon story.
 
The flashback ends with the arrival of Willow - with another woman, who is apparently called Aura and whose arm Willow is holding possessively. Aura, on the other hand, is holding her mobile phone,  staring straight ahead with a rather sullen expression, and doesn't seem particularly interested in Willow. Who, for the record, has just had a make-over: a new, more elaborate hairstyle and a tighter, slit skirt instead of her billowy RenFair look from last season. It seems in character for Willow, now without magic, to try to reinvent herself: I'm guessing Aura is part of this since she definitely sends the message "casual hook-up" rather than "new love of my life". That's qute a desparture for Willow, although not unexpected given her attitude in the previous issue ("Don't even pretend I'm still that little girl".) We also learn later that Willow now has a regular job for which she dresses up smartly in a skirt and heels - I assume something computer-related.
 
The next scene is back to the present, and made me smile. Oh Joss, you never get tired of teasing the 'shippers, do you? I actually predicted this scene almost word-for word when I saw the preview images, but it actually went that little bit further than I'd imagined. Buffy wakes up, naked in bed and not remembering what happened last night... to see Willow standing right there in her bedroom, in nothing but her bra and knickers. I'm guessing there will be icons. :-) (Also, an interesting touch: in the backround of one picture is a photo on Buffy's bedside table of the two of them, Buffy and Willow, in their younger days.) There's an innocent explanation... Willow "snuck out on Aura" - more evidence she's just a casual date - and decided to (a) check up on Buffy (b) borrow her shower. She's actually in the process of drying her hair post-shower when Buffy wakes up.
 
However, Buffy herself leaps immediately to the conclusion that she and Willow slept together. There's been a bit of discussion recently on the Buffy/Willow 'ship, and I've noticed a significant number of people really, really hate the idea. There's the "Buffy's not gay" argument, and the "Just because Willow *is* gay doesn't mean she's automatically attracted to Buffy" argument, and perhaps most emotively, the "They're best friends, and it would spoil it if they hooked up" argument. Of course, the same points are also used to criticise m/m slash 'ships as well. There's probably a meta essay worth writing about all this. However, what we can conclude from this particular episode is:
 
Willow is willing to tease Buffy about the idea of sleeping with her, but it comes across as friendly banter rather than flirtation. She's also entirely at ease about being mostly-naked in the same room as nude Buffy without any self-consciousness or awkwardness. to me, That suggests that while Buffy may once have been on Willow's "list" - see 'Wolves at the Gate' and the whole "shoe sale noise" conversation - at the moment she isn't. Willow only has platonic feelings for Buffy right now. Of course, there is the whole "Ending magic" thing between them...
 
As for Buffy, it's interesting that her immediate first thought is not "Willow is using my shower" but "Willow and I must have had sex last night". She looks pretty shocked at the idea, but when Willow teasingly plays along, her reaction is not denial but to pretend she remembers and that she's happy with the whole thing. Hmm. My interpretation is that while Buffy almost certainly doesn't actively want such a relationship, it's on her own list of "things which might potentially happen one day" rather than being utterly inconceivable. Back in Season 8 she seemed completely clueless about any wider implications of her relationship with Satsu - she couldn't work out why Kennedy suddenly seemed jealous and protective, for example. (Because Buffy had suddenly moved from the category "Willow's straight friend, therefore safe" to "Willow's bi-curious friend, therefore a potential rival.) Given that the new setting for season 9 is San Francisco, of all places, I wouldn't be surprised if Joss does develop this a little further - I'll be glad if he does, since it would mean that the Satsu thing wasn't just a one-off plot arc that's then forgotten about. Not that I'm expecting Buffy to become anything other than straight, but she's a Kinsey 1 instead of a 0.
 
Moving on from the sex stuff, Buffy puts her foot in her mouth (no, that's NOT a sex reference) by asking Willow to do a spell to cure hangovers... then "Oops". Willow takes this faux pas surprisingly calmly, not being upset but even comforting Buffy. I'm not sure whether this is highlighting a new, mature Willow who's got her stuff together, or whether Willow is working on a secret plan to get her magic back, and she's not upset by Buffy's mistake because she thinks it soon won't matter. Time will tell.
 
Now we get our first hint of arc-y badness. A murdered girl, no visible cause of death, no ID, and the "third one this month". The two detectives investigating are given some personality, suggesting we'll be seeing more of them. I have a speculation here which might be totally off the wall: the dead girl was actually a vampire, who met the rumoured new character who has a "new way" to kill vampires, possibly by burning or driving the demon out of them. That would leave just the normal human corpse of the person killed by the vampire's sire, no longer animated. This is happening at night: it's unclear if it's the same night as the party, or the next night. I assume the first.
 
Another flashback - the one that was released as a preview, of Riley, Spike and Andrew arriving at the party. Riley's brought a bottle of alcoholic beverage that looks bigger than Buffy's head; no wonder she ends up drunk. I wrote a drabble about that...  As for Spike, Buffy apparently invited him to the party by text message, and she has auto-correct turned off on her phone. She goes into total flirt mode with him: her pose (arm above head, playing with her hair, leaning forward), her comments about making him beg for an invitation. Spike desn't respond; he's friendly but distant. This has led quite a few people to commenttha the relationship dynamic seems reversed from previous seasons: now it's Buffy who's doing the pursuing. Of course, Spike is still working on the assumption from last year that Buffy chose Angel over him, and so all he can be is friends.
 
Her invitation to Spike - "Enter freely and of your own will" - is taken from Bram Stoker; it's what Dracula said to Jonathan Harker when inviting him into his castle. Kind of the reverse of the more familiar vampire invitation: the implication in the original story is that a vampire can't harm a guest in his own home unless that guest entered compeltely unforced and voluntarily. The role-reversal is an interesting counterpoint to the Buffy/Spike role reversal.
 
Buffy warns Spike that her roommates don't know hes a vampire, and to keep it secret; next panel, Spike is telling the story of when he tried to kill and turn Willow back in Season 4 to an appreciative crowd - including Willow herself, who's enthusiastically contributing her own half of the story. (The Scooby Gang's response to soul-shaking trauma, death and misery is to make it into a joke: it always has been.) Note that Willow has her hand on Aura's knee: Aura herself is turned away from Willow and texting on her phone obliviously. Willow dumped Kennedy for this?
 
The next panel puzzled a lot of people in the preview, but now we know that Buffy's male roommate is called Tumble, we know it's Dawn trying to guess his real name. Buffy is talking to Andrew, trying to bond with him over the end of the Slayer Army, only to receive a huge shock when he tells her he's been organising Slayers into a disaster relief squad. Clearly the idea of doing something like that never even occured to her - but in a rather pitiful display of need to fit in, she pretends she's done the same. I'm not sure if Andrew is fooled. This also implies that Buffy hasn't seen him for a long time, and also that she's really not in touch with what the other Slayers are up to. Whether she actually could have done something like that is open to question - do enough Slayers still respect her? - but she never even thought of it. This starts the theme that Buffy is drifting aimlessly at the moment, which will re-occur.
 
Now back to the present day. Buffy's description of the shower she's taking was hilarious. The magazine on the table next to her in the next panel is called 'Mugen Power' which is apparenetly the name of a Hong Kong-based battery manufacturer. No, I don't understand that one. Unless Buffy is buying so many batteries lately that she has copies of the manufacturer's catalogue lying around the house? ... Let's not go there. :)
 
We get out first ominous bit. Buffy is feeling "dread", whch might be just because she's pretty sure she slept with someone but can't remember who. (Incidentally - we were told explicitly that Willow sneaked out in the morning leaving her partner for the night in bed asleep - setting up the possibility that someone did the same to Buffy.) We get a flashback that Spike warned her that "Something's coming... not human, and not nice". And then we get two people, a man and a woman in business suits, negotiating with some unseen creature that smokes and hisses. They give it a photo of Buffy, and the creature promises that "She will pay... in full". Uh-oh. Incidentally, it's an old photo of her from the early seasons - which will be significant later.
 
Back to the present, and Buffy turns up at work - to the surprise of her boss who gave her the day off in anticipation of a hangover. He makes reference to something Buffy did at the party, which fills her with even more dread since she can't remember it. I liked Buffy's line, "But I got dressed and I walked far and I opened the whole door" - i can just imagine Sarah saying it in her most pitiful voice.
 
Another two-page flashback setting up a dangerous enemy. This is apparently taking place several months earlier: a powerful and dangerous demon had been imprisoned in a magical cell, but when Buffy broke the Seed, the magic ended and the creature was released. It proceeds to slaughter about 20 heavily-armed demon guards with ease, then decides that it must "honour the task" and "Kill all". We don't learn all that much more about the creature as yet; I did like the suggestion that it's been imprisoned for so long, it's almost forgotten how to use language and speaks rustily and haltingly. It seems quite reptilian, and I assume this is the character called 'El Draco' that's been mentioned in spoilers. I got rather a Predator vibe off it as well: the 'hair', and the use of energy blades in its hands.
 
Back to Buffy; she obeyed he instruction to go home again, but tok a coffee from her workplace and is drinking it on the Streets of San Francisco. Her monologue has a call-back to Cave Buffy from 'Beer Bad' as an illustration as to why she 's dangerous when she drinks too much - I was amused by her saying "Wasn't *she* popular", referring to herself as a cave person but I suspect also as a self-mocking meta reference by Joss to 'Beer Bad''s unpopularity with most fans. Buffy also compares herself to Mrs O'Leary's cow - that refers to a story that the great fire which burned down Chicago in 1871, leaving 100,000 people homeless, was started by a cow kicking over a lantern into some straw.
 
Another flashback... Buffy is apparently walking Riley back to his van after the party (she's in the clothes she was wearing then). He's pretty sober and presumably left early, which confirms what we all know about Riley. Buffy is hyper, not to mention drunk, and presumably goes back to the party after this. We can tell she's drunk because "bluffoming" as a portmanteau of "blossoming" and "Buffy" really isn't up to her usual wordplay standards. (Also, amusing role-reveral in that it's Buffy who's apparently walking Riley to his destination to make sure he gets there safely in the dark night-time streets, before, I assume, returning alone.) Buffy is trying to think of a new career she can follow - haberdasher and DJ come up - but at this point she's clearly being silly. Riley, on the other hand, perceives soemthing darker underneath: Buffy is trying to convince herself that things are better now she's broken the Seed. She's guilty about it.
 
Still, the scene has lots of funny bits. Buffy carelessly breaking the door on the van because she doesn't realise it's locked. Her asking if the van has porn in it - not because she's into it but because she wonders if the new her ought to be (And maybe because she's flirting with him.) (And Riley is totally unimpressed by the idea.) Riley's reaction to being compared to Spike ("Words to cringe by"). For the record, Riley is apparently still working for the government, in a new secret task force, but targetting ordinary human terrorists since monsters are now thin on the ground post-Seed-breakage.
 
And apparently drunk, disconnected Buffy made a pass at Riley - or at least suspects she may have. She's thoroughly ashamed of herself for doing so, given that he's married. She can't remember if anything came of it; while I personally doubt anything did, we're not told outright what did take place after that scene.
 
Now back to the day after the night before. Buffy and her two roommates are cleaning up after the party. Anaheed says "We need to talk about your friends", which Buffy herself - and the readers, I guess - assume means bad news. Buffy even wonders if they're going to kick her out of her own home (BTDTGTTS)... but in a typical twist, in actual fact what they want to say is that they really enjoyed meeting Buffy's friends and hope she'll invite them over more often. And she apparently even made a big hit with their reclusive neighbour who normally calls the police if anyone causes a disturbance. I liked "Willow has made me bi-curious but don't tell her that", and the idea that Tumble and Spike are planning to start a band.
 
Another ominous cut-scene. Simone, drinking Red Bull, is on her way to San Francisco in a VW camper van full of weapons. She's planning "something big" to prove that "we're better than them and not all of us have lost our way" - presumably meaning Slayers and Buffy, respectively. Highly ominous - and reminds us that a few pages earlier we learned that Riley's new job is hunting human terrorists - like Simone. Another internal reference is that Simone's plan is to "change things" in a big, dramatic way... which is the exact opposite of the moral Buffy learned in the last episode of S8.
 
More party flashbacks. Buffy is showing Xander her (small, poky) beddroom, presumbly a continuation of the scene back when he and Dawn first arrived. Xander is even more obviously worried about something. When Buffy talks about her plan to remodel the room, Xander makes what, for him, is an almost cruel comment expressing surprise that Buffy can come up with any sort of plan for the future that doesn't involve battle tactics. He denies any hidden meaning, blaming the alcohol, and uses the interesting phrase "It's a wonderful life" - a film which, if you recall, was about a suicidal man who needs an angel to show him that he hasn't just thrown his own life away in trying to help others. Buffy offers to talk about "it"; Xander says he doesn't want to. Buffy asks about Dawn; Xander makes it clear she doesn't now about whatever it is, and he doesn't want her to know. So obviously something serious is going on.
 
This scene is also set up so that it's at least possible that Xander was the person Buffy slept with that night... she puts her hand on his arm, and this following conversation can be read two different ways:
 
XANDER: Then let's use that few minutes to not talk about it.
BUFFY: Dawnie...
XANDER: ...Never has to know.
 
That *could* be the two of them deciding to cheat on Dawn together, but I seriously doubt it given the emotional reactions on show.
 
More party scenes. Dawn is bonding with Anaheed, so we learn more about her life. Her crush on Willow is mentioned a second time: perhaps foreshadowing? Also, the bit about the "Great American first twenty pages of a Novel" was funny, but taking four years to write just that much would be bad even by my standards. :) Spike is bonding with Tumble. The girl sat next to Spike, staring into space, is the same girl who's sat in his lap kissing him on the next page. That's been interpreted as Spike making out with a random woman-who-isn't-Buffy at a party (the horror! Or if you're a Bangel, the glee!), but to my eyes it looks like he's kind of struggling as she kisses him rather than being into it. In the next panel he's saying, "Buzz off, giant mosquito." which could have three meanings: He's talking to an actual mosquito that flew into the room; he's stoned because the brownies we saw earlier were *that* sort of brownie; or he's telling the woman kissing him that she's a bloodsucker and he's not interested. Hard to tell.
 
Buffy, meanwhile, is into full manic party mode. Dancing on table, uncaring that her short skirt is flying up; showing off her juggling party piece, last seen in 'Hell's Belles'; talking intensely to her boss about "hack circles" and misunderstanding the point of the conversation. This - according to Urban Dictionary - is a game popular with stoners where a group of people stand in a circle and try to keep a small beanbag in the air by kicking it. It's a cooperative game with no winners, so Buffy's comment that she could win at it kind of misses the point.
 
There's also the scene where the police arrive at the door - presumably responding to a complaint about the noise - and end up dancing with Buffy. Some people have said that this strains credibility, and has to mean that there's some sort of demonic influence going on affecting peple's minds. My own interpretation is that it's meant to be taken literally: Buffy is so friendly and good at "drawing people in", as Anaheed said, that she persuaded the policemen to forget their duty for a short time and join in the dancing. It's not realistic, but it reads to me like a scene from a teen movie. You know, the sort that Alyson Hannigan sometimes stars in. Still, maybe I'll turn out to be wrong next issue - although remember, there can't easily be "something supernatural" going on because in the brave new Season 9 world there's no more magic spells.
 
The final scene: the following evening. Willow has come patrolling with Buffy, despite the latter being still hung over. (Doesn't Slayer healing work on hangovers, then?) Buffy feels "the need to make myself useful". Willow, we learn, has an ulterior motive for coming out with Buffy; she needs to talk to her alone. Before she can. though, Spike shows up. Buffy's comment about "Stalky the Clown" has been condemned as harsh, both by fans and here on the page by Willow; but given that he's lurking up a fireescape when he interrupts their converation mid-sentence, it's hardly unearned. Spike references something that happened "last night" that should cause Buffy to be less mean to him - which catches Willow's attention, but is left unexplained. So that's another possibility flirted as to whom Buffy slept with.
 
Buffy is annoyed because Spike is apparently warning her every time they meet of a big looming danger that's coming for her, but can't give any more details. She's also resentful that, in her opinion, he's hanging around because he thinks she needs protecting. Willow is equally annoyed because she wants to talk to Buffy herself, without Spike there. Spike is unphased by the hostility - and his mockery of Buffyspeak made me laugh out loud:
 
"I'm also gonna to add "Y" to the end of my sentence-y".
 
Although Buffy and Willow have seemed on good terms all through the issue, this scene shows that there's still unspoken tension. Buffy assumes that Willow wants to talk to her about the Seed; when Willow confirms it, Buffy wants to drop the subject.  "Then can we not?" It's clear that this is a subject they've often talked about, and Buffy feels guilty and wants to avoid the topic. Willow declares that it's not about blame - which Buffy doesn't believe. Willow repeats her argument from Season 8 that destroying the Seed was a bad thing: "You took the spark of creation out of the world", and sooner or later this will lead to bad things happening. It sounds like she's trying to convince Buffy of this, while Buffy is clinging to the belief that the world isn't really any different.
 
This is of course an argument that fans have been having too. Was breaking the Seed a good idea? Is Willow simply being selfish, because magic was what made her special, and is now trying to justify herself by appealing to some nebulous concept of the world losing its soul? While the reading has merit, I don't subscribe to it. Willow's character development in Season 8 was about her having learned to take the long view: that was contrasted with Amy's selfishness right in the first arc. In fact, Willow's biggest personal conflict was whether she'd moved so far into the world of forces and spirits and powers that she'd lost sight of her own human needs as a person; her desire for motherhood, for example. Here in Season 9, too, her focus is on the big picture. She doesn't seem to hold any personal resentment against Buffy for hurting her; she only expressesconcern about the larger effects on the world.
 
But what's her point? It could be that she's simply harping on the same issue time and again, trying to persuade Buffy to regard the breaking of the Seed the same way she does, as a bad thing. That certainly seems to be how Buffy herself regards Willow's behaviour; she's tired of talking about it. On the other hand, as I suggested earlier it could be that Willow does actually have a plan, or at least believes that they need to be doing something concrete - to replace the Seed, or repair it, or something of that nature. Her comment that she doesn't want it "to be too late" does imply that she's trying to persuade Buffy to take a course of action, not just agree with her views. so maybe this is another plot element. Willow working on a spectacular plan to fix the world's problems, and not talking about the details to other people, always ends well...
 
 
And then the last page. The horrific demon confronts them, to make Buffy pay... her student loan. Yes, I laughed, although I half expect a Brigadier to show up soon to tell us all to stop being silly. Willow and Spike laughing uncontrollably and Buffy resorting to profanity against them just added to the effect.
 
So what's this all about? Should we take it seriously and literally, or is there more going on behind the scenes? After all, the mystery of how Buffy and the others paid their way through college has puzzled many fans, since they were never seen working in student jobs. So did Buffy borrow money from a demonic bank? Or from a regular bank, which has now hired a demon to collect her back payments? We can assume, I think, that the man and woman who gave that unseen entity the photo of Buffy and wanted it to "make her pay" were summoning the demon who confronts her now - and that expains why it was an early Season 4 picture of her. They acquired it when she took out the loan. So maybe they work for the bank, or the bank's lawyers. (Wolfram & Hart, maybe even?)

 
Or perhaps there's something else going on.
 
So that's the first issue. More set-up than anything else. We've got the mysteries of the dead girl, the powerful demon escaping from its magical cell, and Simone planning something spectacular. Buffy's student loan payment is due. Xander has some kind of personal problem he's not telling Dawn about. Willow has remade herelf in a new image and thinks something urgent needs to be done to fix the Seed. Buffy's roommate thinks Willow is cute. Buffy flirts with Spike, who doesn't seem interested; makes a pass at Riley, who's married and presumably very faithful to his wife; the writers also tease us with suggestions of her having had sex with either Xander or Willow.(Personally, I think she's going to turn out to have slept with a new male OC who'll be introduced next episode.) She's feeling rather directionless and without purpose, but also (and this is crucial), not actually miserable about it. Let me repeat: BUFFY IS NOT CURRENTLY MISERABLE. That's probably a sign of the apocalypse, due some time in spring 2013.
 

Tags: buffy, review, season 9, season 9 review
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