StephenT (stormwreath) wrote,

(Review) BtVS 9.06 'On Your Own' Part I

When I took this issue of 'Buffy' home I was filled with mingled anticipation and dread - not so much as to what would happen to the cliffhanger from last month, but whether all the manifold concerns of fandom would be addressed at all.

And it seems that there's an interview with Joss Whedon in USA Today, so 'Buffy' is hitting the national press for the first time since she slept with a woman in Season 8. :)

If she'd kept on going along those lines none of this would have happened...

So, the review.

Despite the cliffhanger last month, we start (rather frustratingly) with a flashback to 1973. Nikki Wood is undergoing her Cruciamentum while pregnant. Despite being no stronger than a normal human, her desperation gives her the adrenaline boost to tear off the corner of a wooden beam to make a stake - at the cost of ripping her fingers bloody doing so. It's pretty badass, though I agree with the comment (I think by Emmie?) that the dialogue itself is kind of obvious. Yes, we know it was because he threatened your baby, you don't need to tell us twice over.

Another curious issue is the vampire she's fighting. He knows about the Cruciamentum already: how it works and what it's for. He also, incidentally, says, "You're weak for a Slayer", which implies he's fought one before - and, obviously, survived the experience. I suspect it was done simply so the writer could put exposition into the mouth of the enemy; but what it means for continuity is this is an exceptional vampire who knows more about Slayers than Buffy herself did at the age of 18, and may well have fought them before. Hmm. Maybe he was a caged vampire kept by the Council in the 1970s for all their Cruciamenta? Which would mean, presumably, that Nikki was the first one for a long time to survive the experience, if he killed all the others...

Also interesting is that while Giles (and Buffy) thought the Cruciamentum was a barbaric rite, Nikki actually wants to undergo it. She sees it as a vital right of passage; part of her duty as a Slayer. Which is odd, but I suppose people put up with even worse rites of passage.

And now, at last, back to Buffy. I did feel sorry for her sitting there hugging a pillow - a good touch by the artist. But that's balanced by me not realising it was Dawn she was talking to until I skipped ahead and saw her name... I did wonder if it was Kennedy at first. It's the hairstyle that threw me: Dawn's got her hair in a ponytail, which I don't think is a style we've ever seen her with before.

I was also a little surprised that Buffy went to Dawn - while in some ways she's the logical choice, I did wonder if Buffy might have tried to shield her from anything so upsetting. Not to mention the ick factor of having to discuss your sex life with your sister. :) Of course Willow has just left town, with perfect bad timing, so she's not available to confide in. I did appreciate them spelling that out with the news that Willow's phone is disconnected. I assume that's because she's gone somewhere out of range of her mobile service in her quest to bring back magic, rather than she's just turned her mobile off. Maybe she's in Egypt? (It was implied in S7 that's where the Scythe was originally forged.)

We spend a page dealing with the issue that Buffy can't remember who she slept with - which hopefully will reassure the people who worried that this would become a major plot arc, or even be played for comedy value. It certainly wasn't. Buffy is obviously upset, not to mention humiliated at her inability to remember; but Dawn is completely supportive and non-judgemental. There's no slut shaming here. Buffy herself also comes to terms with it quickly. She can't remember, so she has more important things to worry about. Besides, it's up to her, not whoever the father might be, to decide what to do. She's on her own, like the Slayer always is.

I did like the reference to "Andrew, whose name I'm not sure why I'm saying" as one potential candidate for father. He is actually my own guess; I'm imagining a scenario where they go to her room to change after the water fight we saw in 9.01, a drunken Buffy challenges him to reveal once and for all whether or not he's gay; Andrew confesses that he's never had sex with anyone, male or female, and isn't really sure; and Buffy offers to help him find out, as it were. Also, apparently there are two men in Buffy's life right now with poor personal hygiene; we know who Tumble is, but who's Root? I can only assume it's her boss at the coffee shop.; he does look kind of grungy. And Buffy casually throws out the possibility that the breaking of the Seed might mean that vampires are now capable of having children, which I'm sure will spark a hundred arguments and/or fanfics, even if it's probably not true.

The possible consent issue, on the other hand, was not raised at all; which I can see causing continued arguments among fans.  O joy. Both Buffy and Dawn take for granted that she chose to have sex with someone at the party, then blacked out the memory of it the following morning. Admittedly it may not have been someone she'd have chosen to sleep with if she'd been sober, but her decision was made willingly. I was surprised - but pleased at the call-back - to see Dawn's own misadventure brought up again, when she slept with her boyfriend's roommate at a party. This is actually an area where Dawn has more life experience than her older sister. However, the idea that Buffy may have drunk herself into insensibility and then been raped isn't even mentioned.

From a Watsonian perspective I can entirely understand that. Buffy sees herself as a protagonist, not a victim: if she had sex at the party, she assumes it would have been by her own decision. There's the circumstantial evidence too, of course: it wasn't a party in a house full of strangers, it was in her own home with people she personally invited to the party. She's a Slayer, and is quite capable of hitting a would-be rapist with a desk or kicking him into the wall on the other side of the room; and none of her memories that we did see depicted her as incapacitated by drink. She presumably knows her own intentions and state of mind from before the party, if she went to it hoping to hook up with someone. None of which, of course, makes it impossible that she was raped: it just means that to my mind, it's not surprising she doesn't leap to that conclusion. It's more surprising that the idea doesn't seem to occur to her or Dawn at all, even to dismiss it straightaway - though here you could argue that even if it did, it's not something they'd want to say out loud.

In fact, though, it seems to me that the story wants to treat the circumstances of the conception as a closed book. It's in the past, it happened. We don't know much about it - neither we readers, nor the characters in the story -  and we're not going to worry about it. It's one of the "big moments that are going to come" from Whistler's speech in 'Becoming Part 1'; the point is not to second-guess how it happened, but to move forward and deal with the consequences. What is Buffy going to do now she's pregnant?

Well, apparently Dawn is going to stay with her for a while - I assume that's why she brought pyjamas, though it's not entirely clear - and she's going to arrange a meeting with Robin Wood.

Side note: Dawn offers her support to Buffy, then adds almost as an afterthought, "And Xander". Buffy responds to that by immediately wondering out loud if she can get in touch with Willow. Curious - there are still issues going on there, I think. (And I noticed that in the list of potential fathers she gave Dawn, Buffy didn't include Xander despite him actually being one of the possibles. She's not entirely dumb. *g*)

But first, a side plot. Spike has arranged to go for a ride-along with Detective Dowling, arranged via Buffy. Interesting.

(I know about ride-alongs from Sara Paretsky's V I Warshawski detective novels - basically, a civilian riding along in a police car during a patrol, to get an idea of what police work is like). I assume Dowling wants to learn more about vampires, asked Buffy for help, and she hooked him up (in the non-sexual sense) with Spike. I did laugh out loud at Spike's casual, "Oh, we don't all have spaceships."

And another flashback to Nikki and her Watcher, as he patches her up after the battle. Very interesting that she says that the baby, "Could be (her) reason to fight". Did she not have one already? Does she value her mission, but not feel engaged with it as much as she thinks she should?

And of course Crowley points out that treating a child as a "reason" instead of a a person is an unfair burden to place on that child, segueing neatly into Buffy talking to Robin Wood in the present day.

It's a difficult conversation - Buffy seems more upset here than she did talking to Dawn. It looks like she hasn't made up her mind whether or not to keep the baby, although 'not' is the "obvious" choice in her mind at this stage. So she's surprised when Wood - who she'd expected to be wholly against the idea of Slayers becoming mothers - advises her to keep the baby. Of course he says that after giving Buffy the horror story of how, as a young child, he grew up never knowing if his mother would come home to him or not, which surely won't fill her with confidence that having the baby would be the right idea. Of course from Wood's perspective, he'd rather be alive than not however much he resented his mother.

(Sidebar- he calls her 'Nikki', not 'my mother' or 'Mom'. Though I suppose if he was only four when she died and was then brought up by her Watcher, that might be how he learned to think of her.)

Another flashback, which will be more significant shortly: Crowley has decided to make weapons and come out to help Nikki fight while she's pregnant. That's very reminiscent of Giles, although it's implied that it's unusual behaviour for a Watcher. Then again we already know Crowley brought up Nikki's child after her death, which does show an unusual level of devotion. Interesting to note that he's keeping secrets from the Council, deliberately deceiving them that Nikki is actively fighting vampires even though she's not suppose to be now. He has, apparently, already told them she's pregnant, though (implied in the first scene) - did they assume he'd convince/pressure her into having an abortion?

(*Checks Wikipedia* Roe vs Wade was decided in January 1973, so this was the first year abortion was legal in the US. It had been legal in Great Britain since 1967.)

Back to Spike and Dowling. Considering that a couple of issues ago we saw Spike having a long conversation with Eldre Koh, here he's doing much the same with Dowling. He's going to have more friends than Buffy at this rate. I liked the snark about the bulletproof vest, and that Dowling can give as good as he gets.

More interesting is when Spike guesses that Dowling's curiosity about Buffy goes beyond the professional, and asks, "Why you asking? You fancy her?" (I can remember being admonished by my US readers when I wrote a fanfic that 'to fancy someone' is a Britishism, and not something an American would say, so the writer knowing to use it here for Spike is well observed.) I was a little surprised to see him practically cheer Dowling on if that is what he's interested in, on the grounds that he's the sort of person Buffy (in Spike's opinion) should be with.

Of course, Spike believes that he's out of the running because "Buffy only comes to me when she needs dark" -and, we assume, he has too much self-respect nowadays to be willing to settle for that. I think this is a call-back to their conversation in 8.37 - "You're my dark place, Spike" - which is significant because I remember some people arguing that that entire conversation was only Buffy's fantasy. If Spike can remember it, though, that means that only the sexy parts with the golden yellow glow were her fantasy, and the conversation itself really happened. Also, of course, we can't in fairness accuse Spike of making relationship decisions on Buffy's behalf when as far as he's concerned she's *told* him the current nature of her feelings for him.

As for Dowling, he doesn't admit to any romantic feelings for Buffy, but does say that it would be a bad idea for a civilian to get into a relationship with a cop due to the 'bad stuff' they see and might bring home with them. He's protesting too much there, I think. Spike quite rightly - and in-character for him -  dismisses the idea that Buffy is fragile and needs to be protected form anything... in fact, it's more likely Dowling would be the one needing to be emotionally protected from the horrors she deals with on a regular basis.

Back to Buffy and Wood - and the Vesuvio Cafe at 255 Columbus Avenue is a real place, drawn here just as it appears in Google Street View. Wood say that his mother put up walls against everybody, never forming lasting relationships with anyone - something Buffy finds familiar, of course. (But good on her for admitting as much to him.) She assumes that Nikki couldn't have borne to leave her son, the only person she let inside her walls: Wood turns it around by saying that no, leaving him wasn't the option; the problem was that she couldn't leave the slaying.

Here we get the final flashback; Robin has just been born, and Crowley is visiting Nikki in the hospital. In the first flush of motherhood she doesn't want to go back to being the Slayer, and Crowley agrees: he gives her passports and tickets in a brown envelope to flee the country and go into hiding. He's defying the Council here - presumably he paid for the tickets himself. He also, presumably, assumed Nikki would feel this way. His comment to her, of course, is also highly relevant to Buffy's situation:

"You can walk away, and no one will blame you. Not if you do it for him."

Does Buffy also want a way out of slaying? This would be the perfect excuse for her to do so. But of course, Buffy's rarely been one for excuses.

Sidebar: we get some interesting background here. First, Crowley says that Nikki has been the Slayer for three years, which he reveals is more than twice as long as most Slayers make it. I think that's the first time we've had such a definitive statement on that.

Second, there's Nikki's own timeline to consider. The opening scene in this issue is set in 1973 and presumably on her 18th birthday, since it's her Cruciamentum. She's already pregnant but not yet showing, so Robin was conceived when she was 17, either in 1973 or very late in 1972. He was therefore born either late in 1973 or early in 1974. She's been a Slayer for three years at this point, so she was Called at the age of 15. We know from 'Fool For Love' that she was killed in 1977, at which point (a) she was about 22 (b) Robin was about 4 (c) she'd been the Slayer for 7 years.

Back to the present day. Apparently Nikki went to South America - like Sarah Connor after the birth of her son - but she lasted less than a year before her sense of duty drove her to return to being the Slayer. Wood's argument to Buffy is that she's stronger than his own mother - not necessarily because she can ignore her mission, but because she's willing to accept help from other people. It's an interesting argument, which I do like: that moral strength can sometimes mean being strong enough to know when to ask for help.  "If you decide to have that baby...don't do it by yourself." Buffy clearly appreciates the vote of confidence too; that's the happiest she's looked for weeks.

(Sidebar: note the Dark Horse logo on a placard as they walk down the street.)

So at this stage, it looks like Buffy has decided to keep the baby; Wood has reassured her that she won't screw up the job of being a mother. We now cut back to Spike and Dowling - who if my reading of Google Maps is accurate, are only a couple of blocks away from where Buffy and Wood were having their conversation. (Season 9 is a lot more grounded in a real place than previous seasons, even if the geography of San Francisco is a little fudged here and there, and there are the occasional continuity errors to drive local residents crazy.)

Buffy texts Spike to ask his help - she wants to talk. Spike goes immediately even though he's not necessarily that keen on the idea - talking to her is not as much fun as fighting zompires, apparently. Dowling, with a huge grin on his face, tells Spike to put on his big boy panties and tell Buffy what he really feels about her - which he's worked out because "I'm a cop. I read people". Spike tries to deny it, but he starts smiling when Dowling sends his own words back at him, that Buffy's adult enough to take "whatever you throw at her".

Incidentally, Spike says that, "I've been over Buffy since the night we first brought down a house" - presumably a reference to 'Smashed' and also a barefaced lie, since it took him a lot longer than that to be over her. But wait - "first" brought down a house? How many more houses did they destroy through the awesome power of sexytimes? I spy a possible crack!fic here... Unless he means when they destroyed the whole of Sunnydale?

He finds Buffy sitting outside her apartment block, changed into shorts and a t-shirt - which has a heart embroidered, not on her sleeve but on her chest. She's also got her feet dangling in the pool outside the building, which confused me at first (where is she?) until I remembered about it. There's probably a metaphor here about getting her feet wet or something. This scene is also staged much like the balcony scene at the end of 'Fool for Love', as Georges mentioned in an interview a while ago.

Spike has something he needs to tell her - we can guess what, based on his conversation with Dowling - and he calls her 'Buff', which is both personal and intimate compared to his usual names for her. But he doesn't get a chance to say it, because she has big news.

She's going to get an abortion, and she wants his help.

I loved the subtle bit of physical humour here: in one panel, Spike is squatting down next to her. Then we get a close-up of her face as she tells him her news. And in the next panel - he's sitting back flat on his arse, his legs stretched out in front of him. Clearly he keeled over backwards in surprise when she said that, but we don't actually see it happen. :)

Buffy then explains her thought processes leading up to this decision. After her conversation with Wood, she believed she was in a better position than Nikki to become a mother - though I'm not entirely sure if she meant combining Slaying and motherhood, or being strong enough to leave slaying and devote herself entirely to her child. Probably the first: Nikki "tried to run away from Slaying" but Buffy wouldn't have to do that. She has the support of her friends - but she lists Willow, Dawn and Xander, all of whom have shown themselves less than available right now. And there's Spike, of course:

"I was ready to ask you to run away with me."

That's Buffy planning to say to Spike, "Run away with me so we can bring up my baby together as a family", just in case it wasn't absolutely clear.

But she's changed her mind, apparently just now while sitting here in the dark outside her house. She's not ready for motherhood after all. It's not combining it with her Slayer calling that's the issue - she's got that part sussed. It's all the rest of her life that she can't handle.

"I'm barely able to hold onto a job. I live with roommates who are about to kick me out. And I can't even hold onto my alcohol well enough to remember who got me pregnant. (...) It's not the slaying. It's me."

It's a depressing enough message: but I don't think it's entirely bleak. Buffy's big problem has always been denial, refusing to face her issues or admit she needs help. Here's she's doing exactly that. It's progress. She's also embracing her agency: her statement, while self-critical, is also filled with "I" statements. She's not blaming other people for her problems; they're down to her.

As is the solution. She's asking Spike to come with her, for moral support, but it's a decision she's made alone.

As for Spike's reaction? He seems pretty much dismayed to learn that she's pregnant - by someone not-him - just as he presumably came to her to confess his love for her. But he doesn't let any of that show, beyond what I think is a glimmer of tears in his eyes. (Buffy herself is crying openly at this point.) When she asks if he will help, his answer is a simple "Yeah."  it's probably not the sort of help he expected to give her, but he still does.

The final scene is very poignant - Spike holding his hand out to her, and Buffy reaching out hesitantly, not quite sure whether or not to take it.

So what do I think about her decision? From a meta perspective, a little surprised, to be honest. My outsider's view of US politics is that this would be too much of a hot button issue to be addressed in a comic, except maybe in a cursory fashion (raising the possibility only to dismiss it as "not for me"). But then again, this is what Joss has to say in the interview I mentioned:

"It's not that women should be on one side or the other, but that people have to make this decision and talk about it. It offends me that people who purport to be discussing a decision that is as crucial and painful as any a young woman has to make won't even say something that they think is going to make some people angry."

In other words, regardless of whether you're pro- or anti-choice, Joss thinks it would be cowardly to avoid the issue as too controversial to even talk about. Good for him; I did him an injustice.

I'm also surprised, from a story perspective, that they aren't going to go for a Buffy-as-a-mother storyline, simply because the hints they were giving seemed to point to this being the way the season would go. Of course it's possible that things will change next issue - she hasn't had the abortion yet - but I can't believe Joss would be giving interviews to the newspapers if this was just a bait and switch and she'll change her mind next month. So I'm assuming it's a done deal. That means, of course, that this is only going to be a sub-plot of the season, not central to its arc as I'd thought.

The downside is that I thought making her pregnant *and* cutting her arm off was too silly and over the top even for Joss, so one or the other wouldn't really happen. But if she's not going to be pregnant after all (after the next issue), that leaves it open for her to be maimed instead... :(

From an in-story perspective, is this decision in-character for Buffy to take? I think so. While she's not expressed an opinion on the topic before, she's young, educated, female, liberal and not at all religious, all of which tend to correlate to pro-choice views. I've seen it argued that as the Slayer, she might jump at the opportunity to create life for once rather than end it. However, I think that might be why she obviously hesitates over her decision: she is clearly tempted by the idea of motherhood even if she decides she's not ready for it. And do notice, her words are "I'm not ready. At least not now" rather than, "No way, never." But Buffy has always been pragmatic: she does what needs to be done.

Finally, on a personal note: good for her. While I'll admit I was one of the people thinking that a Buffy pregnancy/baby story would be interesting to read, in reality this is (in my opinion) absolutely the right decision for someone in her position to take.

Now I wonder what the reaction is going to be...

By the way: I realise I missed doing a review of the last issue of 'Angel and Faith'. No reflection on the comic - I enjoyed it - I've just been too busy with work the last couple of weeks. I'll try and write a review before the next issue, or failing that do a double review of both issues in a fortnight's time.

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