StephenT (stormwreath) wrote,

(Review) BtVS 9.05 'Slayer, Interrupted'

Here it is: the review itself. Poor Buffy. :(

So... back on 24 July of last year, I posted the following on Buffyforums:

You know, there is one relationship-type thing they've never done: have a main character get pregnant willingly, with a non-demonic baby, and want to keep the child.

It would fit in with the emphasis that Buffy is now in her late 20s, having to face the fact that she will have a long future as a normal person, and that the theme of the season is "real life". It would also, I suspect, be just as controversial as the Buffy/Satsu revelation, though for different reasons - with some loving it and others hating it. (And the fact that barring shanshu or PtB intervention, the child's father won't be either Angel or Spike will not please many people - it would imply a new relationship for Buffy, perhaps with a brand new character).

So, my (almost certainly wrong) prediction for the second-to-last page of the very last issue of the season is Buffy, with a huge grin on her face, holding up a pregnancy test strip with two blue lines on it.

Well, I was wrong. About a few of the details and how Buffy would react, not the basic idea. :)

Anyway, we'll get to that part later. Up to the last page, 'Slayer, Interrupted' is a tale of revenge, friendship, and Arthurian myth (kinda). And it also has Buffy and Willow sleeping together.

For the record, 'Girl, Interrupted' was an autobiographical book (later made into a film starring Winona Ryder) by a woman who as a teenager in the 60s was committed to a mental hospital for "borderline personality disorder", due to her "uncertainty about self-image, goals, types of friends or lovers to have and which values to adopt" plus her "compulsive promiscuity" (three boyfriends in two years). So the title implies that Buffy is having a temporary fit of insanity, which might in fact not be insanity at all. And that she might not be able to function as the Slayer for a while after the events of this issue.

So, the teaser has Buffy, Xander and Dawn facing a horde of zompires invading the apartment complex where she lives. Xander gives us a variant of the old "I'll take the one on the left" joke, but his adaptation is still funny. Also, he knows his capabilities now compared to Buffy, while Dawn is not fighting at all, but sheltering behind the two of them. (Actually, given that this is, as we'll learn in four more pages, a dream, that's really giving us Buffy's own view of them. She's still protective of Dawn.)

They make it into the apartment - since zompires are still vampires, they can't actually get through the door without an invitation. But then - o noes! - Dawn and Xander turn into vampires as well. Now, either Buffy tossing Dawn the key to her front door counts as an invitation to them both; or she'd already invited them in off-camera before the comic starts; or, of course, Buffy's dreaming subconscious forgot the invitation rules where they were concerned.

Buffy's overwhelmed, on the ground and about to be eaten when the two vampires are suddenly staked from behind... by the First Slayer. Who speaks to Buffy in a perfectly coherent and understandable manner, interestingly, telling her "You are not the Slayer". Buffy flips out and attacks her for staking vamp!Dawn and vamp!Xander, which is not entirely logical of her, but understandable from an emotional point of view. She's upset and needs someone to blame, or to lash out at.

The First Slayer retaliates by punching Buffy in the stomach, which wakes her up. And yeah, it was all a dream... except that Buffy is still feeling the effects of the dream-punch, and rushes to the bathroom to throw up.

Well actually, that's probably morning sickness. But she doesn't know that yet. She apparently ran into the bathroom ahead of Tumble, who looks annoyed; Anaheed is also peering around her own bedroom door suspiciously. Uh-oh.

Cut to a short time later. Buffy has met Willow in the street to talk about her dream over take-out coffees, which they drink while walking along on the way to their respective places of work. (I like the domestic details here.)

Just a side-note about the art. Buffy is wearing jeans and t-shirt: the t-shirt has a picture of a robot on it, which may turn out to be foreshadowing later. She also has her hair in a Satsu 'do again. Willow is in a dark jacket and blouse (though with trousers, not skirt), with a crescent-moon pendant: much more formal. I'm not really a huge fan of how Karl Moline draws Buffy, both in terms of her face (too narrow) and the fact that he seems to have given her breast implants; but his version of Willow is gorgeous.

Anyway, back to the plot. I did like the mention of Kennedy, and the fact that Buffy considers her to be one of her friends rather than just someone she knew through Willow. It's also implied that she and Buffy are still meeting and talking regularly, even if things are awkward now due to the Seed and the whole Willow situation. I'd always seen Buffy and Kennedy as potential friends since they were pretty similar: Kennedy's direct approach, brashness, sarcastic sense of humour and practicality are all things that Buffy herself has been known to demonstrate.

On the other hand, though, it seems that Buffy isn't in touch with any other Slayers. I suspect that might be due to distance rather than the act that they all hate her now - presumably Satsu is in Tokyo, Vi in New York, Leah in Scotland, and so forth, and Buffy no longer has private jets and helicopters at her disposal. Kennedy actually lives in San Francisco, though, or at least did. Also, Buffy does say that she's afraid to contact the other Slayers, fearing rejection.

Willow and Buffy try to interpret Buffy's dream; Buffy thinks the First Slayer was trying to get her attention because of something important, and worries if she might be about to lose her powers. (Something that nearly did happen to her last issue, of course.) Willow has no answers, but suggests consulting the 'Vampyr' book Giles bequeathed to Buffy. The one she hasn't read yet. Note that Willow also suggests that maybe, if this is a Slayer dream, other Slayers might be having it too. I've used that idea in fic but this the first time I've seen it mentioned in canon.

So next evening, Buffy gets the book out of her weapons chest. There's maybe a continuity glitch here because we see that Buffy has kept the broken half of the Scythe in there as well. That wasn't there last issue when Anaheed was emptying Buffy's stash and laying it out on her bed... unless she left the broken axe thingy in the chest. Or couldn't lift it because she's not a Slayer.

Buffy reads late into the night - she had a candle by her bed, and we see it's completely burned through in the later picture. Doing research like this obviously reminds her of Giles (or maybe she wishes he was there to help), and she comments twice how much she misses him. Hopefully that will satisfy the fans who were complaining that she hadn't mentioned him so far this season (even though it's seven months since he died).

Then the First Slayer appears in her room - which presumably means she's dozed off. She's also wearing different clothes now - purple pyjama bottoms and a green t-shirt with, interestingly enough, blue angel wings on the back. Either she got changed at some point in the evening and kept on reading, or her dream-self has chosen a different outfit for unknown reasons.

The First Slayer (it would be a lot faster to type if I could just call her Hiywan, but non-readers of my fic might object *g*) leads Buffy to a junkyard filled with rampaging zompires. Behind them is the broken Scythe - embedded in a stone. And the First Slayer tells Buffy that only the Slayer can pull out the blade. Hence my Arthurian comment earlier. (And for the record, Buffy herself referred to "King-Arthuring" the Scythe out of the rock back in Season 7, so it's repeated symbolism.)

Buffy is puzzled why the First Slayer is being "so chatty" compared to her normal laconic self, and attacks her again - perhaps out of intuition. And she's right - the First Slayer turns out to actually be the faerie from 'The Chain' last season!  (The comic spells it 'faerie', not 'fairy', so I have too.) And then Buffy wakes up, thinking "Someone's hijacking my dreams".

Buffy goes to Willow's workplace - where, incidentally, she's confirmed that she's a computer programmer. They work out that the faerie - whom Buffy dubs Tinkerbell, predictably enough - is hijacking a real Slayer dream to tell Buffy she's not the Slayer. And so Willow agrees to spend the night with Buffy (so to speak) so that if Buffy has another hijacked Slayer dream, Willow can wake her from it.

It's a cute scene, with talk of slumber parties and pillow fights. I did like the hint that pillow fights are something the two of them have actually had in the past, though I hope Buffy didn't use Slayer strength. Buffy calls Willow "her bestie", prompting a pleased smile from Willow who "didn't know if we were still using that qualifier". Aww.

Also, Willow is still with her girlfriend Aura - unless she's got a new one since the party in 9.01, of course - and apparently hasn't told her that she's planning to spend the night in Buffy's bedroom. Hmm.

Buffy falls asleep, and the faerie turns up and actually talks to her, explaining what's going on. We knew from Season 8 that she lays eggs in people's ears, but now we learn that it's not (or not only) for reproduction purposes. The eggs cause dreams - either pleasant ones or nightmares. Which is an interesting and appropriately faerie-tale idea. However, the breaking of the Seed means that she no longer has the power to do that unaided... so instead, she hijacked a Slayer dream to "ride in" to Buffy's subconscious.

Why? Well, apparently she thought that Buffy was impersonating the "real" Buffy - the one who died in 'The Chain'. She wanted to punish her for such cruel audacity by giving her nightmares, and that's why she (disguised as the First Slayer) was repeating the line that Buffy "is not the Slayer". But now, having explored her subconscious from the inside, she's realised she was wrong: Buffy IS the real Slayer. So there's no further need to inflict those nightmares on her.

Interesting side-note that Buffy naturally assumed she was being punished for breaking the Seed. It must be a relief for her to find out people have grudges against her for other reasons too. :) Also, she did know about the decoy Slayer and how she died, which I expected but it good to see it confirmed.

However, the faerie has now realised that the dream she hijacked - the Slayer dream - is important. She tells Buffy "vampires will keep coming" unless Buffy sorts it out, which is interesting and, I guess, important to the season arc. She also says, which I found interesting, that the Slayer dream is actually the First Slayer's own dream, which Buffy is sharing. If that's an actual explanation for the Buffyverse mythology of where Slayer dreams in general come from, it's fascinating and important.

Something that's not explained is that the First Slayer in Buffy's dream is standing to one side talking to a duplicate of Buffy - specifically, the Buffy we saw in 'Time Of Your Life', the one who went to the future, killed FD!Willow and broke Melaka Fray's version of the Scythe. If that turns out to be a significant detail and not just Karl Moline throwing in an Easter egg, I'll rejoice to see the TOYL arc finally being explained. :)

The Other Buffy vanishes, and the First Slayer leads Buffy back to the junkyard and the Scythe in the Stone. Helpfully, the faerie comes along too to explain the dream symbolism. And also to tell Buffy off for being self-pitying.

So, the First Slayer wants Buffy to "undo what she did to this world" - presumably that means breaking the Seed, destroying magic, and more specifically ending the Slayer line. How? By "unlocking the key".

Now when I first read that my mind immediately leaped to the conclusion that Dawn's lifespan was now limited... but it turns out that she meant the Scythe. The Scythe which, we were told last season, is fundamentally tied to the Seed.

However, Buffy can no longer lift the Scythe out of its rock. There's an interesting call-back to Season 7 as the faerie says, "It's not for you. It's for her" - reminiscent of what Caleb was told when he was trying to get the Scythe himself. "It is not for thee. It is for her alone to wield". Back then, the "her" was Buffy. Now - it's Willow.


Willow takes the Scythe - as the First Slayer watches and doesn't try to stop her, which confirms that this is a big symbolic deal. She says it could be the key to restoring magic; Buffy, on the other hand, is more interested in how Willow got into her dream and is talking to her, much in the way Faith got into her dream back in 'Graduation Day'. The faerie explains that Buffy and Willow now share such a close bond that their dreamspaces blend together. I love that we get continuity to 'The Long Way Home' of last season, since I hoped the dreamspace idea would be used again. Also, of course, all this is an absolute gift for Buffy/Willow 'shippers. :)

There's a sweet, touching moment as Buffy tells Willow she needs her, and is starting to sort her life out (or at least sort her friendship with Willow out) after the freefall of the last arc. But Willow knows (presumably through dream-logic) that she has to go on a long journey with the Scythe, and tells her "If you love something, set it free."

(A phrase which can apply to lots of different things, of course, not just Buffy and Willow. As I'm sure it's supposed to.)

And on that note, Willow takes the Scythe and walks off - side by side with the First Slayer, who has got what she wanted. Bringing back magic will also bring back the Slayer line, presumably.

The faerie leaves Buffy with another cryptic dream-comment: "Like I said, you aren't the Slayer. The Slayer's a part of you. But you're not a girl anymore." And Buffy wakes up.

Willow's not in the chair she was in when Buffy went to sleep; the broken Scythe is gone; and Willow's left a goodbye note in its place. So she's really gone. (Bet her actual girlfriend isn't too impressed by that either.) Where has she gone, and for that matter how did she know where to go? We don't know, though I suspect a Willow mini-series might be coming up some time this year.

"Buffy, the world needs magic. You know why I had to go. No use saying goodbye twice. I love you. Willow"

Buffy dashes outside into the street in her pyjamas and bare feet calling Willow's name, hoping to get a double goodbye anyway, but she's gone. (Come on. Can this possibly get more Buffy/Willow subtexty?) She tells herself she can handle this because she's not a girl anymore. She sits down on the kerb looking uncharacteristically exhausted, and feels nauseous again. At that point a realisation seems to hit her. Uh-oh.

The next scene looks like it's later in the day, because Buffy is now properly dressed - and she's carrying a paper bag of something she's just bought. Tumble and Anaheed confront her: they know she's a Slayer (thanks to the events of last issue), they're worried for their safety, and they don't want her to live there anymore.

Buffy, on the other hand, has no time to talk; she's got something more important to worry about. The pregnancy test she's just locked herself in the bathroom to take.

Which is positive.


Now that's such a complete game-changer for the season (even if it's not exactly unanticipated) that it almost deserves its own separate discussion. I do want to talk about the rest of the issue first, though, so it doesn't get overlooked. We've had confirmation now that Willow will be trying to get magic back this season, and there are mystical forces (the First Slayer) helping her to succeed. Whether magic will return, and whether it'll be a good thing or not, remains to be seen - but this is definitely going to be a major plot thread for the season as a whole.

I liked the plotting of this episode. It was certainly complicated - but it all made perfect sense once it was explained. The faerie initially wanted to punish the "Buffy impostor" by giving her nightmares and telling her she wasn't really the Slayer. Nice call-back to Season 8, and continues the characterisation of the faerie as being fiercely loyal to decoy!Buffy. As for the First Slayer, it appears that her motive was to inform Willow that the Scythe was the key to restoring the Slayer line, and convince her to help. Why go through Buffy? Because Willow isn't a Slayer so the First Slayer can't appear in her dreams (barring the use of powerful magic like that in 'Primeval'). But she can appear in Buffy's dreams, and then through their shared dreamspace-bond reach Willow. It's all very neat.

Symbolically, the message "You're not the Slayer" was a mistake on the faerie's part at first - but the line is then repeated in a different form. Buffy is no longer just "The Slayer" because she's more than that. She's not just a girl anymore either. What is she?

Well, she's pregnant, for one thing.

I'm going to assume this isn't a false alarm because that would just be bad writing. It may be a mystical pregnancy, or something to do with faerie eggs, but I think we can rule that out too - no more magic limits the possibilities too much, not to mention that the plot has been done to death already. I think it's just a normal, mundane, unwanted, terrifying pregnancy.

(Apparently there's a trope in fiction that having a baby solves all a woman's problems, and is the happy ending to dream of. If anybody suspected for a moment that Joss would go down that particular route, Buffy's expression and comment that "I'm scared too" should end it.)

It's also apparent that Joss, with his trademark ruthlessness, has sprung this on Buffy at exactly the worst possible time. Her flatmates are wanting to kick her out of the apartment. Her closest girl friend, whom she would surely turn to for support and advice, has just disappeared, and won't be back or even contactable for an unknown length of time. Xander and Dawn are on bad terms with her right now, assuming Buffy would even be comfortable sharing this with them. (I think she'd be more likely to want to shield Dawn from it than share it with her, actually; and she might be too embarrassed and awkward to tell Xander.).

Basically, the only person she can talk to about this now is Spike. Oh boy, I bet fandom is going to love that development.

The elephant in the room (actually, the first of two elephants) is whether Buffy will decide to keep the baby, or go for an abortion. Knowing that this comic is written by Americans, and how controversial abortion is in the US, I'm quite surprised they were willing to go for a story where that would have to be a consideration. I'm very curious to see how they'll handle it. Well, I'll be very disappointed if it's not mentioned at all; but for the sake of the story I'll be happy if Buffy either decides to terminate the pregnancy, or considers the option carefully then decides against it. Or even - and this would be the way I'd probably write it myself if I were Andrew Chambliss - she realises she wants children, but is in no position to have them now... and so reluctantly has the abortion now, but makes up her mind to take her bun cookies out of the oven and find someone she can settle down with and start a family when she can.

I'm actually quite taken by the idea of Buffy slaying vampires with her baby securely attached to a sling on her back, a stake on one hand and a bag of nappies in the other. Assuming she has two hands by the end of this season, of course, which is in doubt right now. She'd take her place alongside Sarah Connor and Queen Magrat as a Mum You Don't Mess With. Plus of course Spike would be the perfect stepfather - look how paternal he was with the bug babies.

The other elephant in the room - which is pretty crowded - is, of course, the identity of the father. The strong hint is that it was somebody she slept with at the party in 9.01, but can't remember - although it's not impossible that there'll be a mislead there, and she knows who it is already. But if not, that's presumably going to be the plot of the next issue. I know some people have expressed fear -or repulsion - at the idea of such a scene being played for laughs, but given the mood of the last two pages of this comic, I'm really not seeing that myself. There's also the question of how consensual the sex would have been given that Buffy was drunk at the party: but remembering the huge flamewars that subject has already caused on BuffyForums, I'd rather not go into it now. Let's wait and see if it's raised next month, and then it can go into the next review.

Anyway, I'm going to make a wild prediction that the father is Andrew. Here's my scenario: he and Buffy went to her room to change out of their wet clothes after the water fight. She challenged him to finally come clean and say once and for all whether or not he's gay. Andrew replied that he honestly wasn't sure, because he'd never even got close to having sex with either a man or a woman. Buffy, drunk and horny and noticing (to her surprise) that naked!wet!Andrew was actually kinda hot, offered to remedy 50% of that problem right there and then. Andrew, nervous, also drunk, and sexually confused, said yes. Both of them were too flustered and drunk to remember contraception. Am I right? We'll see in a month or two, I suppose.

So: Buffy's pregnant. And apparently going to get her arm cut off in a couple of months' time as well, which is verging on excessive even for Joss. With hindsight, I now know why Scott released the spoiler cover of issue 9.08: to lull us into a false sense of security. Fandom had already reached the conclusion that a Buffy pregnancy was going to be the big story in Season 9. But when we saw Buffy being maimed, I for one certainly believed that was going to be the story instead, and the pregnancy (with its hints of "a major life change" and Buffy "needing to retire from slaying for a while") was off the table. Oops.

I am now wondering if the arm thing is going to be the fake out instead. Maybe I just have too much faith in human nature, but the way Dark Horse have been talking about it really seems too casual for this to be a real, genuine horrorshow punch in the gut. So maybe they're all just incredibly callous and insensitive (cries of "Yes!" from the peanut gallery), or maybe there's a twist they know about and aren't saying. I guess we'll find out.

On an upnote to end with, I thought the writing this month was much improved: more subtle, and some genuine Buffystyle banter. I even had to double-check that it was Andrew C and not Joss who wrote it, which you can take as a compliment. :)

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