I liked this episode of Buffy. To me at least, it seemed to bring back a lot of the energy and characterisation that seemed to have been lacking recently. Hence why I'm trying to review it within less than a week of the issue date this time. :) Of course I'm sure everybody else in fandom hated it for some reason or another...
Let's start with a transcript of the cover, which shows Buffy's thoughts spiralling around inside her brain (Well, they're drawn outside it, but you know what I mean). If we assume that the thoughts nearest to her face and in largest type are those worrying her most, then she's mostly missing Willow - not surprising after she disappeared so abruptly in 9.05 hours before Buffy's pregnancy scare started. Spike's place in her thoughts is a conflicted one: her thoughts of him aren't particularly positive, but they're in some of the largest text. Anyway, I've sorted her thoughts into four main categories:
Buffy blaming herself for being a bad friend:
When was the last time Xander and Dawn wanted to see you?
You couldn't even keep the Scoobies together.
You drove Willow away.
Even Spike deserves better than you.
I have no idea why Spike is acting all piney over you.
Buffy blaming herself for being a big loser:
Do you even have money to pay the rent?
Are you really going to wear that?
You live with someone named Tumble?!
Anaheed and Tumble are looking for a new roomie.
Those college loans aren't going to pay themselves.
You can't even pour a decent cup of coffee.
I'm surprised Root hasn't fired you yet.
You can't throw a party without blacking out.
Why don't you own a car?
Buffy hating her weird life:
Spike's bugs are grossed out by you.
You're crashing on a ship with giant cockroaches?!
Only you could lose your own body.
Poor collector demon probably lost his job because of you.
Buffy blaming herself for being a bad Slayer:
It's your fault zompires exist.
We'd be better off if Severin had siphoned your Slayer power.
All in all, I think it's safe to say Buffy is not in a happy place just at the moment. Her concerns about her friends seem to matter most to her: they're central to the drawing and are in the biggest font. She's blaming herself even when it's not logical - she didn't drive Willow away, for example, even if she thinks she did; and Dawn has been trying to get in touch with her for the last two issues.
Her general idea of being a failure at normal everyday life stuff takes up the largest space in her thoughts - and again, while some of her worries are accurate, others are just plain wrong or at best exaggerated. We know - but Buffy doesn't - that her roommates decided not to kick her out after all because they like her too much. We find out in this issue that Root was quite happy to take her back in her job, even thought she'd been absent without explanation for so long that many bosses would already have fired her.
By contrast, Spike's diagnosis that Buffy is pining for a normal life doesn't really seem accurate. She's worried she sucks at normal life, but that's not the same thing. Only a few of Buffy's worries concern the weirdness of her life, and even those seem to a large extent to be concern at what other people might think about her., or that she can't even succeed at the things she's supposed to be good at, like Slaying.
Also, it's nice to see her compassion about the collector demon.
The issue itself starts with "Buffy's real mind in a robot body" tied to a chair and talking to "The Buffybot's mind in Buffy's real body". To simplify things, this review will use the word "Buffy" to mean the real person even when she's in the robot body, and Other!Buffy for the other one.
The two Buffys have a pointed conversation about freedom and power and so on. The bottles are an interesting detail which I'm not sure I understand; unless they're purely set dressing, like the way Giles was often shown eating on the TV show just to give Tony Head something to be doing instead of just standing and talking. However, it's a significant little detail that Other!Buffy holds the bottle to Buffy's mouth so she can drink - even though robots don't actually need to drink. Is this to represent an instinctive act of kindness despite her obvious anger in other respects, to give an insight into her character? Also, it's possible a later issue of the comic will have one of those water bottles lying around as a Clue that Simone has been there.
Buffy is clearly envious of the suburban dream life her decoy enjoyed, even while Other!Buffy is angry about it being fake and a trap for her.
Buffy starts to say that Other!Buffy figured it all out "a lot quicker than--", and Other!Buffy assumes she meant "Quicker than you thought I would". I actually think Buffy was going to say, "Quicker than I did", and she was being complimentary. It has to be weird talking to yourself like this, even though Buffy has had prior experience of meeting a perfect physical double of herself...
Other!Buffy goes into a rant about Buffy's selfishness and cowardice - turning the Slayer Army into her disciples, using decoys to hide behind, and keeping the other Slayers down so she could always be the most powerful one. I did smile at Buffy's annoyed comment that she hopes Andrew didn't program all these ideas into the Buffybot, and thus maybe believe them himself. But it's Other!Buffy's mention of guns that tips Buffy off as to whose ideas she's actually hearing.
Some people have been annoyed by Other!Buffy putting magenta streaks in her hair. It's a fairly in-your-face clue that she's been associating with Simone, and borrowed her purple hair dye as an act of rebellion. It does make you wonder how much time has elapsed between Other!Buffy being kidnapped and Buffy finding her and being taken prisoner. My first assumption was that all this is happening on the same night, but actually that isn't necessarily the case. The business with repairing Buffy's robot arm and then searching for the tracker signal in the necklace until they discover it on Angel Island might actually have been spread over more than one day, giving enough time for Simone and Other!Buffy to bond and have a girly makeover session together. :)
Simone appears and gives her villain exposition speech. It seems she was interested in Buffy because she had "the greatest concentration of Slayer power anywhere", and Simone wants that. I have a suspicion that there's something mystical going on here that'll be revealed later: that Simone wants to tap Buffy's power for some higher purpose, rather than just wanting the strongest Slayer on her team.
Simone mentions that she discovered that (robot) Buffy's power is "all wrong" - it's neither mystical nor vampiric, but merely technological. Buffy gives her an odd look as she says that, and later on starts to ask her how she knows. We, the audience, know how, if we can remember 9.04: Severin tried to drain (robot) Buffy's power and said it "sparked differently" to vampire power. Presumably Severin reported that back to Simone. And now, it seems, Buffy is starting to wonder if there may be some connection between Simone and Severin.
Simone, angered, smashes Buffy in the face then clonks her over the head with the empty water bottle - in contrast to the way Other!Buffy gave (robot) Buffy some of the water to drink. Buffy points out this contrast to her double, who is clearly taking it in - but Simone doesn't notice the interplay. She's too busy bringing out her toolkit.
Meanwhile, back to Andrew and Spike. Andrew is still storytelling about himself. I assume the brigt light at the end, that terrifies Andrew, is Spike's bug ship coming to collect him once the sun starts to rise and he can't search any longer.
Now an intermission with Dowling, Dawn and Xander, set just after the fight against Dowling's former partner last issue. There's some important background information given: the zompire plague is finally starting to turn public opinion as a whole against vampires again. As a result, the Mayor wants the SFPD to form a task force to deal with zompires, and Dowling's sergeant thinks he has the right experience to be involved with it.
(I was a little bit thrown out of things by that: would someone with the relatively low rank of sergeant really be in charge of recruiting such an important task force? Shouldn't it be a lieutenant or a captain or whatever?)
Meanwhile Dawn is still trying to call Buffy, who's still not answering her phone. (As we know, she's a bit tied up at the moment.)
Simone has apparently decided to remove the robot's head so Buffy's consciousness will be trapped permanently and helplessly inside it. For a casual two-panel scene, that's pretty nightmarish in its horror. H P Lovecraft based entire stories on the concept. But then an alarm starts to go off (the 'EEEE' sound) and Simone goes to investigate.
Buffy has figured out that her robot arm comes with a release button on the shoulder, which she hits with her chin to make it come off. Without her arm, the ropes tying her to the chair are now loose enough for her to shake them free and escape. And so now we get a Buffy versus Buffy fight...
The alarm was caused by Spike and his bugs breaking in, with Andrew in tow. Spike has a snarky comment that they're likely to discover the two Buffys plotting on the best way to break his-- heart, I assume. Simone opens fire on them with an MP-5 submachine gun, followed up by a kick. Spike is wounded, several of the bugs are even more badly hurt - but their metal suits appear to be armoured, fortunately.
Spike goes into vampface and tells Andrew to go and find Buffy while he fights Simone. His words "I've heard of you, dear. Love the look" are obviously fake and sarcastic; and I love the way the bug he swings as a club at her is all enthusiastic about his fighting skill even as he flies through the air.
Andrew discovers the two Buffys fighting and grabs a club with nails through it to join in and help. He tries to attack Other!Buffy, who dodges - but this gives Buffy the opportunity to grab her and pin her to the floor. But Buffy is angry at Andrew; and her speech contains a remarkable amount of meaning for something so short. She acknowledges that Other!Buffy also has the right to her name; she expresses absolute confidence in Other!Buffys fighting skill, that Andrew wouldn't have been able to touch her; and she says that she'd have defended Other!Buffy against Andrew herself, if she'd believed she needed help. This all makes a big impact on Other!Buffy.
Meanwhile Simone is enjoying herself kicking the bugs around, and some of them are obviously dead. She's also clearly contemptuous of Buffy for allying with vampires instead of slaying them - while Spike gets to say, "And here I thought I'd killed my last Slayer" as he fights her.
The attempted joke about "Buffy too" and "Two Buffys" fell flat. Sorry, writers.
However, Other!Buffy has realised Simone lied to her, and real!Buffy is a lot more genuine, brave and compassionate than the picture Simone painted for her. They're allies now. Simone grabs her gun and opens fire on them all - Buffy is hit (but being a robot, she's okay) while Other!Buffy pulls Andrew down to protect him. When they look up again, Simone has made her escape.
Other!Buffy confirms that Simone had at least two plans in motion, which she needed Buffy's power for. Spot the season arc building up.
Another interlude with Dowling. It's clear that a lot of his colleagues in the police are uncomfortable with him killing his partner, even if she had become a vampire. He himself is planning to resign; he's seen Buffy and "her crew" in action, and he thinks he'd do more good fighting vampires the way they do than in the police. But his sergeant doesn't want him to quit; and he has a plan for him that involves Buffy. ("Of course we know about the Slayer".) So maybe Buffy will end up in the police force after all - or at least attached to them as a consultant - just like Season 2 predicted.
Now we get a long three-page conversation between Buffy and Spike, which has been extensively trailed in interviews. (For those who don't know, Spike is going off to star in his own 4-issue mini series now, before returning to the main comic later.)
Spike has told her that he's leaving with the bugs for a while, so that she "can take some time to figure out what you need". Buffy at first seems to be reluctant for him to go, though she only says it's because she needs his help fighting. Spike thinks she doesn't need him around when she's trying to think about her life plans; but Buffy gets snappy with him - "Don't tell me what I need". I think this comes as much from her anger at the way Andrew and others were making decisions for her without consulting her, as being specifically directed at Spike.
Spike throws his hands up in apology and withdraws the comment, but then goes back to Buffy's earlier words, when she thought she was pregnant, about the two of them running off together - and asks her to come do it now anyway.
Buffy's reaction to this - to everything Spike says, in fact - is pretty opaque. She seems to be rolling her eyes at the "run away together" line: coupled with her thought on the cover "I have no idea why Spike is acting all piney over you", she seems to think he's overreacting to something she said at a moment of great stress.
Spike gives her a speech about how there's nothing left for her in San Francisco: serving coffee, having to explain recent events to Dawn; why not just leave all that behind? Now personally, I think this is exactly the worst possible thing Spike could have said at this point. Buffy is not a quitter. We saw from her internal dialogue on the cover that she badly misses her friends and she's feeing guilty and ashamed of her failures in life: but running away is rarely the option she chooses when things look bad. (And when she does run away - 'Spiral', 'Retreat' - things usually turns out worse.)
Even so, Buffy's only reaction here is to realise she "keeps forgetting about Dawn". Now given my previous theorising that the monks' spell creating false memories of Dawn has been weakened or broken by the loss of magic, this might actually be a serious plot issue. Or it could just be that Buffy is neglecting her sister. :)
Spike now gets closer to the emotional heart of the matter, when he says he's no longer happy to "lurk around the edge of your life" and only be there when she's desperate - to be nothing but her 'dark place'. Buffy's comment next is even more opaque, but interesting: she offers him an excuse to stay with her, in those exact words. As far as I can figure it, she does want him to stay; but she's not prepared to say the words he wants to hear.
There's an even more interesting moment when silence falls between them, and Buffy puts her hand on her belly. It seems a definite clue that she's thinking about the pregnancy that never existed - but WHAT she's thinking about it, we don't know. Spike definitely notices her gesture, however.
Spike finally cuts to the chase. He tells he he loves her, in those words, but he "can't get jerked around" any more. He doesn't blame her, but he can never tell what she's thinking or feeling. He believes in her and knows shell do right. and then he leaves.
Buffy looks sad as he speaks to her; her expression as she watches him leave is harder to read. There's no strong emotion there - she's not crying, or smiling, or anything like that. Maybe she looks a little forlorn. Maybe even numb.
So Spike has now laid it on the line. He's still in love with her, but if she's not willing to return those feelings and go away with him, he doesn't want to hang around on th edge of her life picking up crumbs. So he's leaving - to sort himself out, as we've been told. Whether that means he'll get over his feelings for Buffy, or discover that he really can't, remains to be seen.
Buffy's own feelings are much more of a mystery. She barely speaks to Spike throughout the scene; she shows few strong emotions other than a general unhappiness. It's certainly possible to interpret all this as her simply feeling nothing at all for him. However, if that were the case I think she'd be willing to say so: she's never been shy about it in the past.
Personally, I interpret her lack of words as being because Buffy herself doesn't know what to say. She has no clear thoughts she can articulate to Spike about the place she has for him in her life, because she doesn't even know. She still wants him around, but she can't say either, "I love you too" or "Let's just be friends".
On the other hand, we have the front cover to tell us the thoughts swirling around deep down inside Buffy's psyche. Frankly, right now she thinks she's a pretty worthless human being. "Even Spike deserves better than you." Granted, the 'even' isn't exactly complimentary: but perhaps Buffy feels she has no right to beg Spike to stay with her, because she thinks he would be better off away from her?
That's her low point. Next, though, she gets a really important pep talk from her double. Buffy, in despair, thinks that Other!Buffy should just take her life (with the nice house and car), while the robot goes out fighting vampires. But Other!Buffy says that all that was fake - it felt fake even before she knew it was - because it was unearned.
"Buffy. You will have it someday. But it won't mean anything unless you get it for yourself. On your terms."
Andrew puts Buffy mind back into her own body again - and Other!Buffy suggests that this will help her find again the "drive" and "fire" that were missing before.
The final scene has Buffy going back to the café where she works and talking to Root, her boss. I liked the continuity that her hair still has the magenta streaks that Other!Buffy put there while she was using the body. As mentioned, Root is happy to keep Buffy on with her job despite her long absence.
However, Kennedy has been looking for Buffy, and left a message for her with Root. Buffy reads it and immediately tells Root she'd resigning her job, with a big grin on her face. They shake hands in a friendly way, obviously parting on good terms. All in all it's a very upbeat ending, and one that leaves me happy for Buffy. She's got the fire back.
Also, as one of Kennedy's few fans (though there are a lot more of us after S8 than before) I'm glad she's going to have more of a role in the next arc.
Finally, I wonder what Andrew has done with the Buffybot? Does it now have Other!Buffy's mind back in it; or did Andrew somehow integrate that with Buffy's own to give them both sets of memories? Other!Buffy's final comments did kind of imply that was a possibility.
And what will happen to the fake house and car and stuff? It would kind of make sense practically for Buffy to actually go and live there now, you'd think, even though it would cut across the whole empowering "You'll have all this when you earn it by your own efforts" message. Maybe, to fanwank it, Andrew didn't actually have the money to buy everything outright: the house was merely rented on a short-term lease, and the same with the car and stuff. So now it's gone.