StephenT (stormwreath) wrote,

(Review) BtVS 9.03 'Freefall' Part III

So far I’m seeing two main reactions to Season 9. Some people are loving it; “It’s just like the TV show again!” Others are much more “Meh”; not that it’s bad, exactly, but it so far hasn’t reached the heights or the depth we’ve come to expect from ‘Buffy’. It’s workmanlike rather than inspired by genius. Part of the problem, I think, is that so far most of the big plot twists have been telegraphed in advance – so instead of excited or infuriated speculation on the forums about what this or that scene might actually mean, reading Season 9 feels a little bit more like ticking off boxes. “Right, they’ve introduced him; oh, he’s done his face heel turn already? Next we’ll learn about… oh, right.” So.

In other news: Buffy’s rumoured pregnancy: still not confirmed either way. But it’s only been a few days since the party: she’d probably learn about it (if it’s true) round about, oh, issue 9.06.

So last issue ended with Buffy discovering that the guy she thought she was rescuing actually has the power to convert vampires into human corpses. We start where we left off last month, with Buffy’s internal narrative – which amused me because it reflects something I’ve seen expressed in fandom too. “There isn’t supposed to be more magic in the world. There’s supposed to be less.” Now personally, I liked the high magic level of the Buffyverse, and the story potential it offered; and goddess!Willow was one of my favourite characters. Others, however, have embraced the change in the Buffyverse paradigm, and from what I gather seem to be looking forward to stories with fewer magical dei (or demones) ex machina. So the introduction of yet another new character with superpowers rather goes against their hopes and dreams for the direction the narrative will take.

Still, as Buffy recognises, what Severin does is drain away the magic from other people, so you could argue that his power is more of an anti-magical one. Except that, as we later learn, the power doesn’t go away; each vampire he drains gives Severin’s own powers a charge up.

Oh, and we learn his name in this scene: he is Severin, as suspected. Buffy immediately shortens it to ‘Sev’, which fits the grand Scooby tradition of mangling people’s names, but still seems a little presumptuous of her. He comes across as a little naive, but pleasant and eager to help. I noticed that last time he told Buffy “I’m a Slayer. Like you.” But here he drops that claim, telling her, “You’re the Slayer. I was hoping you could tell me” when she asks how his powers work. He also say that he “Didn’t mean to get you in trouble” referring to the corpses he’s leaving scattered everywhere, that the police are blaming Buffy for. That can be interpreted two ways: either he’s naïve, as I suggested – or he’s evil, and this is all a big act put on for Buffy’s benefit. Buffy isn’t particularly impressed by him – I was amused by her brusquely picking him up by the scruff of the neck to climb onto the rooftop, just in time to avoid the police car arriving.

Speaking of the police, Detective Dowling and his partner (Detective Cheung, we assume, though she’s still not been named in the comic, only in a draft script that got previewed) are knocking on doors trying to find Buffy. It’s been pointed out by a native San Franciscan elsewhere that Dowling’s badge says ‘South San Francisco Police’, which is a separate organisation that doesn’t cover the downtown area around Jackson Square where we were told the missing bodies were found last issue. So a possible continuity error: or maybe the original case started in South SF and these two are still in charge of investigating it even though it’s spread to the rest of the city. It would actually make more sense for Buffy and Xander/Dawn to be living out in the suburbs rather than in the heart of the downtown area, after all, given their income level.

It’s also been pointed out that the preview of this issue showed Anaheed muttering to herself that she should have checked Buffy’s references, after the police have called on her. That line doesn’t appear in the final version of the comic. Maybe the editors didn’t want to give the wrong impression that she was about to turn against Buffy – or the opposite, they wanted it to be more of a surprise when she does. Or maybe it was just a screw-up.

Meanwhile we get to watch Spike doing what he said he’d do last month: some legwork of his own to track down who’s coming after Buffy. The idea of a demon estate agent (‘realtor’ in Amerispeak) is an amusing one, fitting with the competition for upmarket and renovated tombs we saw in Sunnydale. I wonder if a crypt with “granite countertops” is referring to actual kitchen fittings, or the slabs on top of the graves? Incidentally, the name: “Nomed Realty” – spell it backwards. There was also a possibly significant passing mention: the idea that before the Seed was broken, killing at least some demons merely sent them back to their original hell dimension rather than just, you know, killing them. That’s new, and doesn’t really fit what we saw before: or possibly it’s just this particular species of demon that has their power, not all of them.

If demons can’t return to their hell dimensions after they die, that does raise an interesting question: what happens to the souls of ordinary people after their deaths? Are they also trapped in this Earth unable to move onto the afterlife? That would be a fairly major bad consequence of the Seed breaking.

The demon that broke into Buffy’s room last issue is now living in Alcatraz, because the abandoned prison ‘reminds him of home’. I have to say it’s been many years since I visited San Francisco myself but Alcatraz then was a busy tourist landmark, not somewhere a demon could hide securely – unless there are abandoned parts of the prison not open to the public.

Buffy’s spent the night in Severin’s apartment. I think there’s a deliberate fake-out where it appears she’s sleeping naked, having “spent the night” (fnar fnar) with him; but it then turns out when we turn the page that she’s wearing a top with narrow straps, and reacts rather aggressively to the hand trying to wake her. Where did her pyjamas come from, since she presumably didn’t go home to get them? Maybe they belonged to Severin’s old girlfriend? I’m always a fan of Slayer powers in use, such as Buffy going from fast asleep to grabbing a hand approaching her hard enough to hurt, in an instant.

We learn a little of Severin’s background story: he’s wealthy, a “trust fund kid” who has a spectacular apartment in downtown San Francisco. And he found himself killing vampires by accident – he actually wanted to be one himself. Buffy’s reaction to this, “You too?”, was curious; at first I thought she meant she’d also wanted that at some point. That flatly contradicts ‘Nightmares’ in Season 1 when it was her literal worst nightmare; though I suppose that she did also tell Angel that “When I kiss you I want to die”. But on more consideration, I think she’s just fed up with the fact that since vampires became fashionable, a lot of naïve people are wanting to get themselves turned. As she later comments, she still has to slay them afterwards. (Though she says “kill”, not “slay”, which is interesting given that she corrected the police on that last issue. Maybe the line between human and vampire is getting blurry.)

Severin’s girlfriend Clare was a vampire wannabe, it seems. Which, incidentally, proves in passing that Severin is not the new gay character that’s been mentioned as appearing in this season. (Assuming he’s not lying.) (Also, note that he’s being set up as rich, attractive, heterosexual and single.) This was an interesting look at how the world works now that vampires are public knowledge and most of them are choosing to go along with “Harmony’s rules”, as they were called over in ‘Angel and Faith’. Speaking of Harmony, it’s hinted that she actually won ‘Dancing with the Stars’.

Clare’s old schoolfriend Alessandra got herself turned into a vampire, and offers to do the same to Clare who will then turn Severin himelf. This actually reminded me of ‘Disharmony’ on Angel: Harmony was able to resist her bloodlust enough to interact with Cordelia as a friend, but it was a close-run thing some of the time. Alessandra actually seems pretty nice, reassuring Clare that “She won’t bite too hard” – but of course, what she actually then does is kill Clare and drink her blood.

Buffy assumes that Severin’s distress is because he actually didn’t want to go through with the vamping but agreed for Clare’s benefit. But she’s wrong; he really did want it. (Maybe Buffy is a little too trusting? That will be relevant later.) Instead, what we learn is that there’s a new twist in vampire mythology. When Clare rises, she isn’t a normal vampire, but a mindless feral beast. Her vampface is even drawn to look ape-like, or Neanderthal. She tries to kill Severin, and in the moment of crisis he discovers his power.

As when Spike stakes his mother after turning her, Clare’s humanity returns for a tiny instant before she dies again. It looked to me as if she was crying tears of blood.

Severin reveals that every vampire he’s met who was recently turned has been the same; filled with uncontrollable rage. Buffy works out that it’s been happening since she broke the Seed, and immediately assumes that this is all her fault. Very in-character. This does invite the question – how does Severin know so much about these new-style vampires when Buffy doesn’t? Has she never met one, despite going out to patrol every night? It’s not impossible, I suppose; if Buffy stakes first without asking questions later, she might not have even realised there was anything unusual about the vampires she was slaying. Severin, on the other hand, might have kept his contacts to the so-called “vampire community” that he made with Clare, and has heard about it from them. So it would work: but the other possibility is that Severin is either misled or deliberately lying for some reason.

It was an interesting touch that Severin says he’s only using his powers on the feral vampires, or on those who “are still turning people”. He doesn’t see normal vampires as the enemy, only those who are contributing to the problem. He even uses the phrase “Putting them out of their misery”. Here again there’s a question: is he lying? The vampires who were attacking Buffy in the alley last issue didn’t seem to plan to turn her, but he still went after them. Unless he means he’s not fighting the vampires who go about openly in clubs and bars, only those who are still hunting in alleys.

Meanwhile, the police followed up Anaheed’s reference to Buffy’s sister and are calling on Dawn and Xander. Who are still fighting, and apparently it’s over Xander forgetting to plan anything in advance of Dawn’s birthday, or something. I’m not sure whether this is the actual reason for their fight – because it’s rather silly – or a lie they made up on the spur of the moment to fool the police, instead of revealing the real reason. Of course, the distress Xander was in in the first issue seems way to deep to be caused by such a trivial quarrel. (He’s not ‘Tough Love’-era Willow, after all.)

My speculation – which may be totally unfounded – is that the end of magic took away the fake memories everyone was given of Dawn’s life prior to the age of 14. Dawn herself hasn’t realised this – the magic that made her human is now inherent, and that wasn’t affected by the Seed breaking; but everyone else now only remembers her from the last six years or so, and there are odd gaps and lacunae in their memories. Which might explain why Xander forgot her birthday - if that was one of the implanted memories. He can’t tell Dawn the real reason because he’s trying to shield her from that knowledge, and so they’re quarrelling over something apparently trivial because he can’t reveal the real reason. (Dawn, presumably, only knows that Xander is acting all tense and peculiar around her, and it’s stressful.)

Xander mentions that it’s less than three years ago that he lost his eye, which puts the start of Season 9 at no later than May 2006. Interesting. It fits fairly well with the timeline: 18 months from ‘Chosen’ to ‘The Long Way Home’, 10-12 months for Season 8, and then 6-8 months from ‘Last Gleaming’ to ‘Freefall’. It also means that Buffy is 25 and Dawn 19, nearly 20. Of course the timeline is confused by the fact that three panels later Andrew is singing along to the Lady Gaga song ‘Born This Way’ which was released in 2011 – at least it was in our world. So either time in the comics runs at a different rate to our own world and the characters have only lived three subjective years in eight real-world years, or in the Buffyverse pop culture is eight years ahead of the real world. Hmm.

The montage of scenes as Buffy summons the Scoobies to battle was interesting. Xander and Dawn are not impressed, confirming that they really are trying to leave behind that life – but they turn up anyway because Buffy needs them, contradicting the impression some people had last month that they were cruelly abandoning her to her fate. Willow is at work and ignores Buffy’s text. I note that she’s sitting at a table, not a desk, and has a laptop not a desktop PC. Is this just the standard now in American offices, or does it imply that she’s a consultant rather than a full-time employee? Spike is on a boat – I assume the Alcatraz tourist ferry. I was amused by the way he’s dressed up in a trenchcoat and broad-brimmed hat, presumably to shield him from the sunlight but also because his detective work has clearly led him to dress up like Philip Marlowe. Spike always really gets into the roles he plays. :) Andrew is making a robot for some unknown reason…

Willow doesn’t come off too well here; her excuse that she’s at work so she’s too busy to talk would be more convincing if she wasn’t clearly so enthusiastic when she thinks it’s Dawn rather than Buffy calling her. On the other hand Buffy is being a bit manipulative herself, using Dawn’s mobile to ring her since she assumes Willow wouldn’t pick up if she’d known who was really calling. It’s all rather petty all round, but I actually liked the scene; it felt very true to life. And Willow’s sarcastic “Shouldn’t you be on the run from the police?” was funny. (And shows that despite their temporary quarrel she still knows what’s going on with Buffy.) Her reaction to Buffy telling her “You were right” about the Seed’ breaking having consequences was interesting: she seems to be a combination of pleased and shocked. Shocked because Buffy is admitting she was wrong, or shocked because Willow only had a hunch that there would be badness, and has been proved right? It’s clear that whether or not she has knowledge of any specific problems the Seed’s loss will cause, she didn’t expect this one.

It turns out that the new feral vampires are not only mindless and blood-crazed: they’re “meaner, faster, stronger”. (A bit like turok-han, perhaps?)  Hence, they’re a threat. This is an important point, because on the face of it you’d think that unintelligent vampires would be less dangerous, not more. They can’t plan ambitious schemes to end the world – but then again, now that the Seed is broken they couldn’t do that anyway, because no more magic or portals. And most vampires seem now to have agreed to co-exist with humans, as parasites rather than predators, making them less of an immediate danger. The new “zompires” - a word Xander coined and is protective of – are out there killing people while normal vampires have given that up for the moment.

I was amused by Buffy’s plaint that the ‘Vampyr’ book Giles left her in his will is 5000 pages long; I suspect she’s not read it then. In its lack Willow works out what’s happening – or at least comes up with a theory. Vampires are human corpses possessed and animated by a demon; that’s been established canon since the first season. Where does the demon come from, though? I suppose the previous idea was that it was kind of floating around in a vampire’s bloodstream, and when the vampire sires someone, a bit of the demon gets into them too, budding off like an amoeba, and grows to fill and possess them in turn. Willow’s explanation that no, the possessing demon comes from a hell dimension, actually makes more sense – and we can assume that drinking the vampire’s blood after being drained somehow prepares the body to receive the demon and signals it to come over.  It makes sense that these demons can’t enter our dimension anymore with the Seed broken, and that’s why the vampires seem mindless. It’s more of a stretch that they’re somehow “possessing the bodies from another dimension” – what, by remote control? How does that work?

Still, it’s an interesting concept. Breaking the Seed mean that you can’t physically travel from one dimension to another, or draw magical power from there into our Earth. It seems, though, that there’s a loophole after all, and some trans-dimensional effects are still possible. I’m wondering now if Willow is going to get curious about that and start investigating it further.

Severin announces that he knows where there’s a nest of these new zompires, and suggests that he and Buffy attack them together. This struck me as a little suspicious on first reading – it’s very convenient. It would work that he might have known about the nest but not felt confident in attacking them until he had a Slayer’s support, but still. At this point we get the reveal that Xander and Dawn aren’t planning to help Buffy slay – they came to persuade her to go back to the police. “Nobody’s complaining about vampires right now” – an interesting statement if what Severin says about the new feral vampires is true – and she’d be better off sorting things out with the authorities instead of defying them. Willow agrees with them, meaning that Buffy is isolated; only her new friend Severin is saying she should avoid the police instead of giving herself up. It’s made clear that Xander and Dawn are both motivated by concern for Buffy even if they disagree with her; Buffy herself looks kind of sulky and upset rather than betrayed and angry.

Dawn’s mention of prison segues neatly into Spike investigating the demon hideout in Alcatraz. There’s some good snarking and a fight scene before the big reveal that the demon isn’t hunting Buffy to kill her: he want to thank her for releasing him from prison when she broke the Seed. Apparently by the honour code of his people, the Nitobe, he’s now “bound” to her, whatever that means. Which would be a shocking plot twist if I hadn’t guessed it weeks ago. :)

Interestingly, the demon’s name is ‘Eldre Koh’. Which means that when Scott said that he wasn’t ‘El Draco’, he wasn’t exactly lying, but… I wonder what happened: was the original plan to call him El Draco, but at a later date they decided to change the spelling of that to something more demony? Or was it that an interviewer heard a Dark Horse person speaking about Eldre Koh and misheard it as ‘El Draco’? The demon has also been called just ‘Koh’, so maybe ‘eldre’ is a title instead of part of his name. I did see someone joke that perhaps he’s a Mormon…

Eldre Koh gives us the big ominous exposition. The entity that everyone says is coming for Buffy is called “The Siphon”. He “rips magical energy from all he touches – vampire, demon, even Slayer”. He’s also ancient, or at least spoken of in ancient prophecies; demons older than the existence of vampires fear his “arrival”.

Hmm. Does that sound like Severin to you?

Right on cue, it seems that Buffy has decided to ignore Xander and Dawn’s wise advice, and go off with Severin to take out the vampire next rather than going to the police. You could argue that it’s her duty as a Slayer to fight vampires whenever she hears of them, but it still has a strong air of avoidance about it. It’s something that Buffy can convince herself she should be doing instead of the adult, responsible thing. I’m strongly reminded of another scene, in ‘Bad Girls’ when Buffy sneaks out of a test in school to go and deal with another vamp nest with Faith.

Severin reveals that there’s something he hasn’t told Buffy yet: each time he drains a vampire, he gets stronger. Draining an entire nest of vampires might even make him stronger than Buffy. And then she kicks in the door of the nest, and finds that all the vampires there are already dead. Severin knew they were, and his eyes glow green as he activates his powers. Uh-oh. Blackout, end of show, “Continued”…

The obvious conclusion is that this is all a trap. We go straight from Eldre Koh warning Spike about “The Siphon” who’s coming after Buffy, to Severin, whose powers fit the description perfectly. He’s leading her to a dark, remote place in the docks, far from help. He kept an important element of his powers secret from her. He knew the vampires there were already dead, and we can assume he killed them and is now, just as he claimed, more powerful than Buffy. So he’s brought her here to drain her Slayer powers away.

Or has he? I have a sneaking suspicion that this is going to be a fake-out. Severin’s painted as a little naïve and sheltered, and it could be that he simply staged this to impress Buffy and convince her that he really can help her, and she should take him seriously. It just seems a little abrupt to go from Severin being a good guy and even a potential love interest, to revealing him as the season’s Big Bad in only the third issue of the season. I guess we’ll find out next month, whether they’re fighting to the death or just bickering a little – Buffy doesn’t like being lied to, as she mentioned in ‘Predators and Prey’.

Still, if Severin is an enemy, it would be an interesting structure to the episode, with a double twist – Koh is a good guy, Severin is a bad guy. Bait and switch. I doubt that Buffy will be able to defeat him first time around, if all he has to do is put his hands on her head to remove all her powers – which presumably will turn her into a normal woman, not kill her as it does with vampires who are already dead. She’d have to dodge him and run away until she can figure out a way to beat him – though that depends on whether his being ‘stronger’ means that his magic-draining power just works faster or at longer range, or whether he’s actually more powerful in a “beating up Slayers with his bare hands” sense.

I also can’t imagine they’d let Buffy stop being the Slayer, except perhaps temporarily, so I don’t think Severin will manage to drain her. One idea I had, though, is that when Severin drains power, it’s stored inside him. The fact he gets stronger each time he does it reinforces that idea too. So maybe if he’s killed, all the stored-up magic will flood out of him and re-empower whoever’s standing close by? That could give Buffy her Slayer powers back if she does lose them for a few episodes… and if Willow happened to be nearby too, it would also give Willow her powers back. Which if true mean that Willow has a strong personal interest in Severin’s death…

If Severin’s a bad guy it also lets Buffy off the hook with the police, since she can tell them he’s the one leaving the corpses.

Then again… it could be that this is a fake-out and Severin was just trying to impress Buffy… but he’s still the Siphon and will turn out to be the Big Bad after all. So the fake-out would be a fake-out. Eldre Koh says that the Siphon has been known about for aeons: a couple of possibilities are that it’s imprisoned in Severin’s body, like Glory was in Ben, or that Severin himself is the Siphon but both his powers and his memory of who he is were magically locked away. Breaking the Seed broke that spell and gradually his powers are returning. Alternatively, maybe he really is as young as he looks, and what Koh was talking about was an old prophecy rather than an actual ancient being.

And after writing all that I’ve convinced myself that this issue has a lot more depth to it than I originally thought. Huh. :)
Tags: buffy, meta, review, season 9, season 9 review
  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.