This just keeps getting better. A lot of new layers and emotional complexity, more plot revelations, and a very insightful characterisation of Faith.
(And no, I haven't read anybody else's reactions or reviews before writing this, as usual. So I've yet to discover what's causing the massed uproar of complaints this time around, although I don't doubt that there'll be something 'wrong' with this issue...)
For those of us disappointed by Faith's apparent reluctance to contemplate seducing a fellow-Slayer in Part 1, the first scene of Part 2 restores our, er, faith. Well, OK, she characterises her relationship with Buffy as 'friendship' but she's not fooling anybody, except possibly herself. (And Buffy.)
Getting a Faith's-eye view of what happened in season 3 is interesting, especially this line:
"They share a little of themselves with you. You share everything with them."
At first, this might seem the wrong way round: season-3 Faith was forever keeping secrets, lying, not making her feelings plain, and exhibiting what Buffy called "defensiveness and weird mixed signals". But that's because we mostly saw her through Buffy's eyes. When you consider early season 3 as Faith experienced it, things look a little different.
Time and again, we saw her in conversation with Buffy; Faith happily chattering away about her life, her adventures, her boyfriends - and when she asked Buffy about herself, Buffy clammed up and answered reluctantly or not at all. It happened in 'Faith, Hope and Trick', it happened in 'Beauty and the Beasts', there was a particularly notable example of it happening in 'Revelations', where Faith looks distinctly hurt by Buffy's reluctance to talk, but shrugs it off with a "Sure, whatever." Now, we in the audience know about Buffy's huge Angel issues that she was still trying to deal with at this point; but to Faith, it must have just seemed like a one-sided friendship where she had to do all the running. In the early days, she did seem to think that Buffy would eventually loosen up, relax her inhibitions, and become the fun-loving, slightly wild friend Faith knew she could be. But then, to quote her here, "It all goes to crap": and when Faith faced a real crisis, the one person she hoped would understand and sympathise instead talks about going to the police, and goes on about her being dirty and sick. So naturally she felt hurt and betrayed and angry. "They hurt you. You hurt 'em back. Or maybe it's the other way around. Whatever."
This scene also gives us BKV's take on Buffy and Faith's reconciliation in season 7, which I think fits perfectly. They established a fragile truce and even shared a joke or two, but they didn't become best friends forever. "It won't ever be like it used to, 'cause that pain never really fades away." The two of them are tied together by all sorts of deep and complex bonds - and we can tell from this soliloquy that Buffy is still very much at the forefront of Faith's thoughts. However, Faith's normal reaction to emotional situations has always been to shut down, run away and refuse to acknowledge that anything is wrong - because showing weakness makes you vulnerable. So all in all, I think it's hardly surprising that she ran away to Cleveland rather than sticking around with Buffy a moment longer than she had to. As she walked away, she probably secretly hoped that Buffy would call her back - but of course Buffy never did.
This opening scene also neatly ties into the final scene of the comic, but I'll come back to that at the appropriate moment.
Next we see Faith gaining entry to the party. I don't know where Giles got that microphone; it looks like it was BBC Home Service standard issue circa 1953. Faith tossing away the earbug is open to several interpretations. At first I thought she might have a different plan of her own rather than wanting to follow Giles' instructions, but that doesn't seem to be the case. It could be just as she says here: because she's a (self-proclaimed) loner, she doesn't want people second-guessing her actions. Or, of course, it could be that Giles made the mistake of trying to show sympathy and emotional support for Faith, which is always guaranteed to raise her suspicions about the well-wisher's motives.
Faith is right about one thing: security at the party really is lax if they don't even check invitations - and apparently only wave the metal detector over her torso instead of also her hair, where she's hidden her weapon. Maybe Giles did choose her for this mission because she has a secret weapon... her cleavage, which the guard is apparently being distracted by when he should be searching her. :-) Also, the "she's clean" joke was funny.
I'm not sure what a 'sped' is supposed to be. Or how that guard could get away with carrying a machine gun in Britain. And if we're going to get really picky, Faith's claimed father would be Viscount Avalon, not the Viscount of Avalon - only dukes, marquesses and earls have 'of' in their titles. Viscounts are also referred to as 'his Lordship' not 'his Excellency' - but if Viscount Avalon is also an ambassador or minister of state, he gets the 'Excellency' because of that. Which leads me to wonder who he is... surely the staff at Lady Genevieve's mansion will know enough to spot a made-up title. Maybe he's a secret ally of the Watchers' Council or the Coven willing to let his name be used for this event - and that name 'Avalon' is kind of a giveaway in that regard...
So, Faith in the receiving line suddenly has second thoughts about killing Lady Genevieve. Now there's a surprise. Last month, when everybody was complaining about how supposedly "out of character" it was for Faith to accept this mission from Giles so readily, I had two main ideas on how it would turn out. In one, Faith was deliberately lying to Giles, and agreed to his plan for reasons of her own. In the other, she was simply being her normal impulsive self, and accepted the mission mainly because she wanted to cut short Giles' attempts at justification.
I'm happy to see the second was right. It's much more in character for Faith to act on impulse and be impatient at any touchy-feely supportive 'emotional crap' from Giles or anyone else. We see that she's also accepted Giles' word that Genevieve is a threat to the world, and that killing her will be a good deed - and since she reformed, she's all about good deeds and trying to do the right thing. But, of course, when it actually comes to killing a fellow-Slayer, Faith gets the shakes and bottles out.
Maybe she should have thought about her possible reaction in advance? Perhaps, but careful forethought is not exactly a Faith characteristic, reformed or not. For that matter, maybe she did worry about what she would have to do, and told herself not to be such a wuss; this was an important mission and she shouldn't let her personal feelings get in the way. Either way, I'm very pleased with the characterisation of Faith here.
I'm less sure about Giles. Was he oblivious to Faith's potential feelings about this mission? Did he assume she would overcome them like a proper Slayer? Or does he have a more devious plan in mind, which is yet to be revealed? We'll have to wait and see - we still don't know his real reason for choosing Faith for the assassination, and I won't be altogether surprised if it turns out that he anticipated what actually does happen in this episode beforehand.
It's probably not coincidental that Faith's murder weapon is a knife and she talks about "sticking it in her and letting her bleed", considering the flashback at the start of this episode showed Buffy doing the same thing to her.
I only noticed afterwards that the opening shot of the great hall inside the mansion showed Roden and his two gargoyles lurking in shadows on the balcony, watching the crowds. This also shows us that the gorilla with the metal detector and the highly illegal firearm is not the only security on the party, which is good.
And now our regular scheduled three-page intermission to keep us up to date with what's going on in Scotland. I really liked this; the conversation between Willow and Dawn was both cute and funny. (And I'm carefully not going to mention here any fanfiction I may have written about what else the two of them may have been getting up to.) Willow's casual flying around is more confirmation - if it were needed - of how powerful she's become, and also how she's once again completely comfortable with using magic. Whether this will be a good thing or not is, of course, something we'll have to wait and find out.
Note that once again we have a character - Dawn, in this case - just about to give us some major revelation ("But the truth is-") when she's interrupted and we never get to hear what "the truth" is. (On the letters page, Scott Allie says it'll be "halfway through season 8" before we understand what happened to Dawn. So, about 12-15 more issues of mystery to go...) It does imply that Willow, too, is wrong about what caused Dawn to grow large - although Dawn was about to tell her that before Renee arrived.
In 8.03 Willow threatened the Slayers with losing their eyes, and in the next issue Warren did just that to her. Now she's threatening to turn Renee into a baby goat - I really hope for her own sake that this doesn't rebound on Willow in the same way...
It amuses me that Buffy doesn't actually appear in this issue at all (except in flash-back) and we still get a completely characteristic Buffyism in her description of Willow. Also, Dawn's comment - "All's fair" - partly shows her rather ruthless approach, partly continues the theme of the Slayers now being at war with humanity - and perhaps also relates back to Faith and what she's about to have to do. But does the 'love' part relate to Buffy, Gigi, or someone else?
One thing that struck me reading this is that Jeanty's style works much better when he's showing original characters, like Renee here, or Lady Genevieve or Roden. He isn't struggling against our preconceived knowledge of what the actor or actress looks like, but can simply establish the new character with their own visual style.
I'll leave it to those with more knowledge of women's fashion to comment on the stylishness or otherwise of what Willow's wearing here; at least - unlike Dawn - she's changed out of what she was wearing in 'The Long Way Home'. I did notice her shiny green amulet - and following this through, Faith, Gigi and Roden are all wearing different stones on necklaces themselves. (Willow's is green, Faith's is blue, Gigi's is red, Roden's also seems to be red). Coincidence or meaningful?
The balcony conversation between Faith and Gigi caught me by surprise. I was expecting some sort of rapprochement between them, to be honest - but I was expecting it to be a big emotional crisis of redemption and guilt. Not the two of them bonding over a shared interest in music and discovering just how much they had in common. Frankly, I prefer BKV's scene to what I'd imagined myself. So Faith regretfully decides that in a different world they could have been sisters - but ironically enough, this gives her the inner strength to pull out her dagger again to kill her new friend.
Which probably says something horribly deep and serious about Faith's character and destiny...
The joke about 'bumming a fag' is maybe not entirely original, but still very funny. Faith's fake name being "Hope" evoked a similar eye-rolling smile from me. (Lyonne is presumably just her mispronunciation of Lehane). And Faith being a fan of Amy Winehouse is another musical reference to add to the ones last issue, and a claim to pop culture credibility. :-) I admit, I had to look her up at the iTunes store to see what sort of music she produces - really not what I previously associated with Faith, but looking at her songs... yeah, I can see the connection:
What do you expect?
You left me here alone; I drank so much and needed to touch
Don't overreact - I pretended he was you
You wouldn't want me to be lonely
How can I put it so you understand?
I didn't let him hold my hand
But he looked like you; I guess he looked like you
No he wasn't you
But you can still trust me, this ain't infidelity
It's not cheating; you were on my mind
Yes he looked like you
But I heard love is blind...
Faith, Buffy, Gigi; oceans of angst and huge rivers of slashy subtext. What more could you want? :-) Faith reveals more about her parents than we've ever heard from her... though I wonder if her father being like 'a ghost' means he's dead, or just was never there for her. (Assuming he even knew he had a daughter at all). She talks about her mother in the present tense here even though she's said before that she's dead. I also notice that Gigi's refined speech patterns are a lot more, well, common here when she's speaking to somebody she consideres an equal and doesn't have to put up a pretence. More evidence that she's deluded and spoiled rather than inherently evil.
Then we get Faith's fight scene - in the middle of which she tells herself off for angsting about why she's so avoidy around guys. Which is funny, but also a line of thought I think she should pursue further at a more convenient time. After fighting The Beast over in Angel season 4 you'd think Faith would know better than to punch demons made of solid rock, but no...
Actually, I've often thought that Faith really isn't a good fighter (for a Slayer) - she lacks Buffy's skill and finesse, but just goes piling in with raw aggression and determination. The result is that she frequently loses her fights, and ends up battered and bloody. Here I'm pleased to see she does win - and using cunning and dexterity and witty banter too, which is even better - but even so she's covered in her own blood and falls unconscious at the end. So, still in character then...
"Here comes bachelor #2" could well be a reference to the Aimee Mann album of the same name.
Faith wakes up, and if I understand Gigi's words correctly, she does know Viscount Avalon, and he's a banker. Also, the reference to Lady Genevieve as a 'princess' is interesting - is he referring to her supposed rank as heir to the leadership of the Slayers, or does it mean that her father the Duke is close in line to the throne, and she actually counts as royalty? Which would explain her references to 'commoners' that annoyed a few people last month...
Lady Genevieve is still a hopeless snob; she might be sympathetic to Faith, but only becuse she assumes she's also an aristocrat. I foresee an interesting scene when she finds out the truth. Faith's "Um, duh?" line was priceless - especially her slight hesitation.
And so we find out Roden's plan in detail. Apparently he's told Gigi she'll be the leader of the Slayers, not that she'll be the only one again as I speculated last time. And that they'll take over the world (or at least Britain) and rule it as a self-selected superhuman elite. Interesting. Isn't that exactly what Voll told Buffy he was afraid would happen a few issues ago? So either:
1) Twilight doesn't care about an undemocratic elite ruling the world, as long as it's their elite. They expect Gigi to be a helpless puppet in their hands, and to rule through her.
2) It's a trick. They're setting Gigi up as a stalking horse so they can later betray her, round up the Slayers, and justify whatever repression they need to the public as a necessary precaution against the
terrorist Slayer threat.
3) Roden and Voll are working at cross-purposes, or even belong to rival factions.
My guess would be (2).
I've also realised something. One of the pictures of Buffy in Gigi's serial killer shrine shows her on the battlements of a mediaeval building in combat gear, holding a zap gun. Which suggests to me that this photo was taken during the battle at the start of issue 8.01 - and that the mysterious booted figure hovering in the air over the old church was in fact Roden. We know he's got (or rather, did have) two tame gargoyles, so they could have been holding him up. Presumably also he has magic protection to stop people noticing him. :-)
And we end with a moral conundrum. The first scene in this issue showed Buffy trying to kill Faith, and Faith proving that she still has major issues about that. Later on, we see Faith and Gigi realising how much they have in common, and bonding in a similar way to how Faith and Buffy became friends back in the day. And now we know Gigi plans to kill Buffy. How will Faith react?
I can't believe that she'll immediately say "Hell, yeah!" and join Gigi's side. I do think, though, that deep inside a dark part of her will be sorely tempted to do just that. Gigi seems to be offering her the real emotional connection with an equal that Faith always wanted from Buffy, but Buffy was never able to give her. If Faith does carry through her mission and kill Gigi, she'll regret this lost opportunity forevermore.
Then again, I can see her deciding to try and turn her new friend back to the Light Side, and discovering Gigi isn't interested - and they end up fighting to the death anyway. Which would be an epic tragedy, and whoever it was who once described Faith as "a walking angst machine" wll have to find an even more extreme metaphor...