StephenT (stormwreath) wrote,

(Review) BtVS Season 9: Willow: Wonderland parts IV and V

I missed doing a review of last month's 'Willow' comic due to illness, so here's a double review of the final two issues of the arc.
Where we left off was that Willow's quest to save the world by restoring magic has apparently failed, but instead she's found a sense of belonging and love with Aluwyn and the coven. However, Marrak contacted her in her dreams to warn her she was caught in a lotos-eating trap, forgetting her obligations to the world.

Willow and Aluwyn have something of a confrontation after she wakes up. The memory water from earlier in the arc comes back into play, reminding Willow of the friends she left behind on Earth. I liked this scene: it did feel like a lovers' quarrel between people who have genuine reasons to be upset or angry with each other, but still care for and respect each other despite that.

Marrak warned Willow that Aluwyn was lying to her; and in fact, Aluwyn confesses that it's true. She knew Willow's plan to give magic back to Earth by opening a portal wouldn’t work; but she pretended otherwise and secretly altered Willow's spell to bring her to Aluwyn's home so they could be together. However, her motives are not dark and sinister as Marrak implied, but very straightforward; she loves Willow and wants to be together with her.

"I wasn't trying to trap you, Willow. Just give you a place where you can be you... and it's safe."

Willow reciprocates the love, but her sense of responsibility won't allow her to stay here and be happy ("drinking and having sex all day and night", as she puts it) when there are people depending on her. I guess some people might think Willow should have been angrier with Aluwyn for her deception; but I liked the callback to 'Goddesses and Monsters':

"I'll know if you lie".
"I always lie".
"That's how I'll know".

(Of course, Aluwyn's statement "I always lie" is a logical paradox. If she does always lie, "I always lie" would be the truth, and thus she wouldn't be able to say that. So logically, Aluwyn must sometimes tell the truth. She's a Trickster, not a Deceiver.)

Here Willow clarifies her earlier decision to choose Aluwyn as her spirit guide: "You'd lead me to the truth, but you'd make me work to find it". It explains why she's not so angry at Aluwyn - she's only being herself - and more importantly, it's an important insight into Willow's spiritual growth. It used to be that she always looked for the easy solution; magic was a shortcut to power for her. But now - since Season 7 - she recognises that her previous understanding of herself and of magic was flawed, and she needs to do the work instead of looking for the shortcut around it.

This whole scene is also, of course, a mirror to the scene between Buffy and Angel in Twilight's dimension last season. Willow and Buffy were both off in a magical wonderland, having lots of sex (though in Willow's case, not in outer space, and not shown on the page) until a magical vision of their friends and family reminded them of their responsibilities back on Earth. Both women immediately decide, though not without regret, to go back to their duty. Aluwyn, like Angel, lied to her lover to bring her to that place: partly out of selfish reasons but also from a genuine belief it was in Buffy and Willow's best interests. Aluwyn's motives are a lot simpler than Angel's, however, and she was acting for herself rather than being a puppet of an outside force; and most importantly, her plan seems unlikely to cause the end of the world!

So they part, with a bittersweet farewell and a promise to meet again after Willow has saved the world, if they can.
Willow goes back to Marrak, who in a probably-symbolic move has killed all the dream birds he found to suck their power from them. They cast a divination spell which summons a giant demonic head - which looks like Marrak himself - which tells them to seek answers in a place called 'The Liminals'.

Willow let the magic guide her to this new dimension - much to Marrak's disgust, since he thinks magic should be something people control, not vice-versa. She also decides that the magic took Marrak's form because he's seen at least part of the truth, even though he's wrong about its essentials.

In the new dimension, Willow senses that the magic around them is more pure than any she's encountered before. She decides to meditate, let the magic become part of her. In that trance, she receives a vision of the answer: that she herself could be the source of magic for the Earth; become the new Seed.

To be honest, that's not much of a surprise. Plenty of people had already predicted that it would be the result of this arc. I did like the way it was presented, though, even if the idea itself wasn't particularly novel. However, there was one twist to the story that did strike me: the fact that if Willow becomes the Source of Magic for her world, will that be bad news for the world? After all, Willow isn't the most pure and innocent person around, not anymore; she has a serious dark side.

I did like the fact that Willow realises this - but not straight away. She's initially more concerned that becoming the new Seed might mean sacrificing her own self: that in becoming the source of magic connected to everybody, her own individual sense of identity would be lost. It's only afterwards that she realises that scary black-eyed Dark Willow is also a part of her, and so would become a part of the world's magic - and that would be bad for other people. By showing this as an epiphany the writers conveyed the sense of someone who is learning to be mature and unselfish even though she didn't used to be, which is good characterisation.

At this point, there's a rather fun confrontation when Dark Willow shows up in person to talk to Original Willow - who isn't sure if this is an illusion or vision, or if somehow her dark side has taken on a life of its own thanks to the magic of this place. This leads to another epiphany; Willow shouts at her veiny self that she has enough trouble "just keeping you locked away", and insists that "there is only one Willow!" To which Dark Willow replies, with maximum economy of speech and thus perfectly in character, "Well, duh". Willow decides that she needs to accept herself, light and dark sides alike, rather than remain incomplete by splitting her personality in two.

At this point Marrak shows up again, disgusted with this world because in his opinion there's no real power here - which is to say, he's not interested in self-discovery and epiphanies, only with raw power he can manipulate. He has worked out, however, that a place called "The Liminals" must be the threshold to greater power, so it's time to move on again.

At this point, Willow finally recognises Marrak as someone she's met before: he used to be Rack, back on Earth. I have to say I wasn't particularly pleased with this reveal: I'm not keen on one "new" character after another turning out to be someone we knew from an earlier season. It's also unfortunate that this is a repeat of the Warren situation from last season; now all the humans Willow "killed" at the end of Season 6 have come back again. (Though in Warren's case, that actually means she killed him twice over - once directly, the second time indirectly since he was unable to survive, in his skinless state for which Willow was responsible, without magic).

I also never got the impression that Marrak was speaking like Rack, although perhaps there was an element of him deliberately hiding his identity from Willow. I do admit that it's interesting that he's not simply motivated by vengeance, even though Willow (thought she'd) killed him. He recognises he needs Willow's help to get out of here, so he's willing to cooperate with her even if he dislikes her.

So we end that issue with Willow and Rack squaring off for a magical duel. Summary: I enjoyed reading the issue for what it was, even though the 'plot twists' were either telegraphed long in advance, or not particularly enjoyable for me.

The next issue begins where the other left off, with Willow telling Rack to "Get away from me!" and illustrating her point with a zap of magical energy. We see a flashback to 'Wrecked' in Season 6 (presumably to remind us who Rack is, for those who've forgotten), and then Rack reveals that when Willow drained him in 'Two to Go' she didn't kill him but rather put him in a month-long coma. Ho hum.

His attitude to her is interesting, though.  He's not particularly wanting vengeance; he's too arrogant for that. He gets off on the idea that Willow is dependent on him: that she'll always come back to him because she needs what he has to offer.

Willow rejects that, but Rack was actually just trying to get her angry and distracted so he could grab the Scythe. He then uses it as Willow tried in the earlier issue, to cut a hole in reality to open a portal to a new dimension - in this case the Heart of Magic that The Liminals is liminal to. This appears to be kind of literally a heart, with organic-looking veins against a starry sky.

Willow decides that she can't let Rack anywhere near such power: Rack says he wasn't asking, and the battle is on.

Willow does show a touch of her old arrogance when she's surprised he'd dare challenge her to a magical duel; and she manages a Buffyesque quip when she tells him he's "definitely high" - as she creates a giant illusionary avatar of herself to pick him up.

Rack disposes of that and challenges Willow: that she's always been a selfish brat, who thinks the rules only apply to other people but not herself. We see a flash of child-Willow playing with doll versions of her friends - including Buffy, Giles and Dawn - which she's pulling to pieces.

Willow doesn't dispute his analysis, but does say that it no longer applies; she's learned and moved on. She also says that forgiving Angel helped her to control her dark side, which is a reference to the 'Family Reunion' arc in 'Angel & Faith' where she, Angel, Faith and Connor went to Quor'toth. It's kind of a continuity blip, however, because Willow's actual words were "We're not going back to how it was before. Ever. But even if I can't forgive you... I can't hate you either". Still, it's just words: Willow's actions there showed that she was willing to put her life and sanity in Angel's hands and trust him absolutely. In my book that amounts to forgiving him, even if she couldn't say the words to his face.

Willow takes the Scythe back from Rack, through telekinesis, and tells him that true power can't be stolen. It has to be earned, but once you do it comes to you from everywhere. That's definitely a real-life metaphor, I think; seizing power means you're always looking over your shoulder, but if you earn power by winning the trust of those you lead, they'll support you and come to your aid.

The fight continues, and Rack distracts Willow by lying to her that her eyes are turning black as she fights him, then breaks through into the Heart of Magic itself. Willow has worked out that Rack is trying to provoke her into fighting him because the confrontation of light and dark is what feeds the power. The next part is a little confusing: it looks like Willow avoids fighting by creating an illusion of herself for Rack to chase, while she hides. However, later on it seems that he manages to catch her herself, not the illusion.

Anyway, after damaging much of the Heart with his energy blasts, Rack manages to ensnare Willow. He tells her that if he drains all her energy - payback for what she did to him - he'll contain both dark and light within himself, and thus provide the opposing forces without needing her.

At this point Rack gets attacked and eaten by the Heart of Magic's antibodies, which have reacted to all the damage he's been causing. Oops. They swamp him and consume him; he's unable to fight them off. He pleads with Willow to help him - despite just trying to kill her a moment ago - but she can't.

So he's gone. Though we don't see a body, so maybe he'll return some day.

Willow thinks she'll be next, but the antibodies don't attack her: they've recognised her as not doing them any harm. I did like Willow's muttered comment "I try to be a good guest"; it felt in character.

The Heart of Magic talks to her now. It explains that it's not exactly the embodiment of magic, since magic is too fundamental to be confined, but it's something close to that. It shows Willow her magical form, revealing the chakras that make up her body - the artist used the actual Hindu symbols here. The purple triangle (brow) is intellect and perception, the blue triangle (throat) is spirit and communication, the green star (heart) is love and compassion (though I suspect it's shown as a Star of David in a nod to Willow's Jewishness), the yellow triangle (solar plexus) is the Will to Power, the orange sun (sacrum/genitals) is sensuality and passion, and the red square (base of the spine) is instinct and material drive.

The Heart tells Willow that she's right to believe that imperfections are the source of beauty: that you should not seek to fight or avoid them, but learn from them. Rack was also right, that opposing forces can exist in the same place. However, there's no way for Willow to give magic back to the Earth from outside; the magic must come from within itself, from the heart.

I strongly suspect another metaphor is going on here, about the nature of creativity. :)

The Heart gives Willow a gift, similar to but totally unlike the 'gift' Amy gave her back in Season 6: filling her with power that isn't really power because it's not hungry for more: but rather is an inherent party of what Willow truly is. "Something that's always been there. Just out of reach". It tells her that this gift is "Given only to you, but not only for you"

As an interesting footnote, as the not-power fills Willow she's surrounded by a blue glow, and her eyes are closed and her head thrown back. It looks like a spiritual experience - but she's also biting her lower lip, and we know from Season 8 that that's actually Willow's orgasm face. So this is a consummation, in more ways than one.

The Heart explains that through learning from Rack Willow has reached the truth; there is no dark magic or light magic, but only intent and action that makes it dark.

In essence, it seems the Heart has awoken the magical nature of Willow's own self. When she goes back to Earth she will now be an inherently magical being, like Slayers and vampires are, and thus able to use her powers as she did in the pre-Seed world. It does so only because it is now confident Willow will use that power to help awaken others, not selfishly to her own advantage.

Do all people have this innate magic, or is Willow special? I guess we'll find out. The metaphor, of course, says that we all have that power but most of us can't or won't awaken it.

The Heart returns Willow to Earth. Specifically, in orbit above it, which was nice of it - now Willow can compare notes with Buffy about going into space without a spacesuit. It also returns the Scythe to her, saying she will still need it because "At times only separation can bring unity, and we must be destroyed to be made whole". I'm not sure if that's a hint that the Scythe will be needed in the finale in that way, or if it's just a bit of mysticism and making sure that the Scythe will be available in later seasons as a prop, which it wouldn't be if Willow left it behind!

Willow says she missed her friends, and the Heart makes the rather cutting remark that she missed them even when she was living among them, because she was separating herself from them. Being sarcastic seems to be pretty much a job requirement for mystical forces in the Buffyverse.

She descends from orbit onto the streets of San Francisco, and in a rather nice touch narrowly misses getting hit by a kid on a skateboard, who tells her off for "coming out of nowhere like that".

On the final page, Willow reflects that her quest is over and she doesn’t exactly know if it worked, or what happens next. "I didn't restore magic to Earth, but I restored magic to me, and me to Earth."  The old Willow would have seen that as a victory; she has her power back. New, more mature Willow is thinking about how she can share her magic with the world, make the world better.

We end with the same small kid who we saw on the first page of this arc, sitting on the ground with some crayons and looking grumpy. Back in #01, Willow was lamenting how the world lacks any creativity or sense of wonder now the Seed is broken: there are fewer colours in the rainbow now. I assume the kid was upset because he couldn't think of anything to draw.

Now, though, as Willow brushes past him little glowing sparks of light twinkle around his head, and he gets an idea and starts drawing the most amazing multi-coloured crayon drawing, with castles and fire-breathing dragons and flying saucers, all under a giant ringed planet. I'm not entirely sure on the mechanics of what happened: did Willow dose him with some of her own magic? Did she awaken his own magical talent inside him? Did merely being close to her spark something inside him? But regardless of how it happened, what happened is clear enough. She inspired him; she gave him back the sense of wonder that the world had lost when the Seed broke.

So it's a happy ending, even if you have to puzzle over how one woman will struggle to awaken such wonder among 7 billion humans. I'm sure Willow is thinking that too.

I must admit I hope we get to see Willow's reunion with Buffy actually on the page.

In conclusion, I did like this five-part miniseries. The plot wasn't particularly surprising, but the characterisation was good, the humorous parts were amusing and I've always liked stories of mystical quests. We also get more of the continuity with 'Time Of Your Life' from Season 8. It's pretty clear now how Willow could have survived for 200 years in a world without magic. She hasn't turned evil, however, which was one fear I saw expressed before this arc was written. If she seemed cold and distant in ToyL, I expect that outliving all your friends and family can do that to you: but that's Future!Willow, not Current!Willow. I also think that in ToyL she was cooperating with Harth and his vampires because she was using them for her own long-term plan, not because she enjoyed their company.

So what was her plan? Well, the Heart of Magic gave her back the Scythe because "We must be destroyed to be made whole". And Willow resigned herself earlier to sacrificing her own identity in order to restore magic to the world, if that was necessary. So that's what I think she was doing in 'Time Of Your Life': she'd worked out a way to restore the magic that had been growing within her for two centuries back to the world, and in turn become absorbed into it. The downside was that to do this, her mortal body had to be killed by the Scythe. In dying she would be born unto eternal life, to quote St Francis of Assisi: become one with the world: its heart and Goddess. The time travel shenanigans may just have been because when Willow realised she'd have to be killed by the Scythe to move onto the next stage , she wanted Buffy to be the one to do it.

Or maybe she thought that since Buffy broke the original Seed with the Scythe, she should be the one to create the new Seed.

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