As I walked out of the shop with this month's copy of the Season 8 comic today, I had to physically restrain myself from tearing open the bag and flicking to the last page to see what would happen. Would Faith die? What would happen to Gigi? What was Buffy going to do to Giles? Would Faith really turn out to be Gigi's long-lost sister? ('No' is the answer to that last question, unfortunately).
But I was strong, and waited, and read it through in the right order, front to back. And what did I think?
Mixed feelings, really. Up until the big climax, I was gripped. But the coda with Faith and Giles seemed a real let-down: flat, incredibly cheesy, and the sort of thing I associate more with formulaic US TV shows that aren't produced by Joss Whedon or his imitators. Even the big reveal scene at the end lost some of its impact because of that. However, on a second read-through pre-prepared for the ending, it didn't seem quite so bad. And there's certainly a lot of exposition and characterisation in this episode for meta-writers to get their teeth into; so overall I'd rate it Good (narrowly missing out on a higher rating due to those two pages).
Anyway, now for the detail.
We start with another extended flashback. Personally it seemed to go on a bit too long for me after it had made its point, but I know lots of people like Mayor Wilkins... and after I've spent so much time defending the previous scenes with Giant Dawn because they're just fun to read, I can't really criticise this one. Well, except that Faith in a dress looks like she's eight. There could, of course, be dark psychological reasons why the Mayor would want to infantilise Faith... sorry, Fay, but I'm one of those people you talk about who really do think that 'he was, like, exploiting you or whatever'. It is interesting to see Faith's own take on that period in her life. She's not actually disagreeing with the idea that he was an evil scumbag who was exploiting her... she's just saying that it didn't feel like that at the time, and she still has fond memories of him despite knowing the truth about him now. And this gives her empathy for Gigi - something she consciously acknowledges. There are, of course, a lot of parallels being drawn in this arc, and it's nice to see that the characters themselves are capable of spotting at least some of them.
Also, Wilkins' dialogue is spot on.
Faith ended last month drained and mentally shattered after her fight with Buffy - so it's probably a good thing Gigi stops to talk first instead of swinging the axe... and when she does, it's to hit Faith with its butt instead of the blade. She's feeling betrayed and angry and upset, but she still cares about Faith... at least, she does until she realises she's American. :-)
There may be some symbolism in the fact that Gigi's axe is literally a two-edged
sword axe, given what happens later. Not to mention that the labrys is occasionally used today as a symbol of feminism, matriarchy, and as a recognition device for lesbians to identify each other.
I did smile at the way Faith gets back her mojo because Gigi assumes she's from New York instead of Boston - though I don't know if that's just a generic thing or there is actually a historical rivalry between the two cities? And kudos to Faith for knowing at least enough of her local history to have heard about the Tea Party, even if she did miss out on ten years or so of schooling.
Even more kudos to her for beating Gigi so comfortably. Like I said last time, Faith had a history on both Buffy and Angel of losing most of the important fights she was in... but last month she defeated Buffy, and this time she defeats Gigi just as easily. Jumping over the swinging axe parallels her fight with the gargoyles earlier - but landing on its handle, balancing there on one foot and kicking Gigi over is just a ridiculously cool stunt. Throughout the fighting, Faith is trying to convince Gigi that Roden is exploiting her, just like Wilkins exploited Faith.
Then, we get another typical scene break with Gigi's line about Faith never having a best mate, leading straight to a picture of Giles. That foreshadows the ending between the two of them - but also, the fact that Gigi herself is reflected in Faith's eye suggests what might have been between the two girls themselves. (Can I also work a mention of Buffy into this paragraph too?)
In the next scene, I'm assuming that Trafalgar just hit the barrier too hard with that hammer of his, and it's shattered. Giles' pun on "speaking of witch/which" is something I think would have worked better spoken, instead of written. Incidentally, the British dialogue is slightly dodgy in this issue as per usual - although the only bit that actually made me cringe is Gigi calling Roden 'her best mate' in the middle of an argument. However, I can only applaud the way Giles' phone comes up with the message 'Willow mobile' rather than 'Willow cell', which is what I suspect Buffy's phone would say...
Anyway, why did Buffy have to borrow Willow's mobile? Has she forgotten her own one again? :-) (Or, on a darker note, does she not have Giles' number programmed into it?)
And now we know how things stand between Buffy and Giles. They're still ostensibly on the same side, as far as we can see (despite some theories that people suggested, that Giles is now working for a rival organisation). But from Giles' point of view, he is, as implied at the start of this arc (and in 'The Gift'), doing the dirty work so that Buffy doesn't need to get her own hands dirty or shoulder that guilt. From Buffy's point of view, he's acting like a loose cannon, almost getting her killed because he no longer trusts her with vital information, and undermining her authority in front of the other assembled Slayers. It's no wonder she's in such a black mood (shown rather effectively by the shadows in the artwork) by the end of that scene.
Interesting contrast between Willow's and Xander's reactions - both want to help her, but they have different ways of showing it. Bearing in mind what we've been told about the next issue (a stand-alone called 'Anywhere But Here' featuring a long conversation between Buffy and Willow, and the winner of a fan competition who's someone Buffy helped get through serious depression), I think we're seeing the set-up for that here.
Back to the action. It's fast and furious, and Faith gets another cool move snatching the secateurs out of the air, and Gigi reassesses her opinion of Roden now that Faith's not her friend anymore. (Or at least, she claims to in order to justify herself to Faith).
And then it all goes tragically wrong. I have to say, I didn't see this coming... I thought Faith might kill Gigi, or Roden would do it himself, or Buffy would, or she might even survive as a reformed character. I didn't anticipate Faith killing her by accident - although having seen it, I can't imagine the story ending any other way. Killing somebody by accident is how Faith's slide into darkness began, and it's fitting that her climb back to the light should also end the same way. And Faith's line as she kicks Gigi back - "If you're so sick of the bad dreams then wake the fuck up" - has a certain irony and appropriateness about it.
Which song is Gigi referring to in her last words? There's no obvious clue, so I'm going to go by the title of the arc. Which certainly fits...
God save the Queen,
She ain't no human being,
And there's no future
In England's dreaming.
Don't be told what you want.
Don't be told what you need.
There's no future,
No future for you.
And does Roden care? Not a bit. With Gigi dead, he immediately tries to recruit Faith instead. (Along with giving us some interesting exposition which I'll get back to at the end). There's a moment where it looks like Faith might be tempted by the idea of turning on Buffy, but it's pretty obvious that she's not ever going to do that for real. Jeanty's drawing of Faith's changing expression as she hits Roden is really well done, I thought... and a nice shout-out to the fact that Faith is not the sort of person to curl up with a good book.
In fact, I've sometimes wondered if she can read and write at all, given how little formal education she apparently received ("Oh, it's a school thing. I was kinda absent that decade."). I believe we see her looking through a comic book in season 3, but that doesn't necessarily require literacy. :-) In season 7 we see her pulling a written report on Caleb towards herself as if to study it, though - so perhaps she took adult literacy classes in prison as part of her rehab. Any thoughts? Have I missed some really obvious example of Faith reading or writing things?
Interesting that Roden gets the solid black eyes and veins that Dark Willow got, but his hair stays red even when he uses his evil magic. Maybe he dyes his hair? :-) (Which would imply that in canon, Willow is a natural redhead who dyed her hair a mousy darker colour in the early seasons so she wouldn't be as conspicuous. ;-) )
Anybody who dares to accuse Faith of 'starting to sag a bit' deserves to die in a horrible and painful manner. Luckily, today wishes are horses and beggars eat steak.
Looks like Willow managed to teleport Giles through Roden's barrier easily enough, though I wonder if any stray marmosets got caught up in the spell too. The knife in the back is enough to disrupt his spell, but not kill him - which is what we'd expect from a powerful warlock after seeing 'Villains'. ("Axe? Not gonna cut it.") Also, Roden proves himself even more misogynistic, thus deserving his fast-approaching fate even more. Nice bit of teamwork between Faith and Giles - especially her trust in his ability to use the spellbook effectively. Mind you, I'm not exactly sure what he does here - open the book at random, choose a spell, think of a way to make it effective and cast it, all while Roden is lunging at him with a pair of pruning shears? Lucky that Roden is overconfident enough to stand there and watch and mock him, rather than trying to stop him...
Today's lesson: don't mess with Rupert Giles. Nice artwork on his face.
And if the comic had ended there, I'd have been really happy. :-)
Not that the next scene is awful, just a bit obvious. Giles had the passport and tickets, just as promised; no twist to the story there (I was still hoping that with Gigi dead, Faith would turn out to be the Savidge heiress... but no). And Faith turns down the 'retirement' after all, because she's not really ready to quit... just like I'd been predicting ever since the first episode in this arc.Though the thought of her hanging up her stake and becoming a mentor to problem Slayers is an interesting twist, and the more I think about it, I can see it as a good idea. Roden's comment about what happens to Slayers who are past their prime is a valid one, however crudely expressed; and while Faith is only still in her early to mid 20s, there will presumably come a day when she shouldn't be out in the field every night. (Assuming, of course, that new Slayers are still being Called when they pass puberty, rather than the current batch being the only ones in existence - which is a big question the comics haven't yet addressed at all). Of course the obvious Slayer for Faith to try to help next would be Dana (an idea frogfarm has played about with quite a bit), so I wonder if she'll show up in a future episode?
Giles and Faith teaming up to bring comfort and support to downtrodden Slayers in defiance of Buffy is the really cheesy part, although I can see potential for some interesting stories exploring the ramifications. (Also, can you say 'spin-off?' Though does this mean that Giles will now be [even more] separate to the main storyline?) Happily, the Steed/Peel line and Faith's reaction to it is funny enough to almost salvage the scene. Not to mention explain the variant cover.
I'm not sure if we're supposed to be reading sexual attraction into Giles' and Faith's behaviour or not, though there's certainly enough there to feed fanfics - Faith's "guys I dig" comment being the main element. I never watched the Avengers, but I gather Steed and Peel had a working relationship with its share of flirting and sexual tension, but were never an actual couple. Given the parallels drawn between Faith-Wilkins and Faith-Giles, (some of those parallels drawn by Faith herself in this story), I suspect that might be more the template intended. But I'm sure we'll find out sooner or later. (And imagine Buffy's face if she discovers Faith and Giles are sleeping together... it might be worth doing it that way just for that scene...)
And now the big reveal. We're almost a quarter of the way through season 8 now: call it episode 5 in TV terms. (That works if you assume each 4-issue arc is a double episode, and 'The Chain' was a short stand-alone episode.) In season 5, episode 5 was the one that first revealed Glory; and in season 8, we come face to face with Twilight for the first time. Who apparently is an individual, rather than the name of an organisation. (Or both). Incidentally, the woman talking to him is a bit of a mystery. She's addressed as Lieutenant Molter, but Lieutenant seems rather a lowly rank to be the main liaison to the leader of Twilight - and she's clearly not at all in awe of him, judging by her comments. Plus she has an impressive display of medals on her chest for her to be so junior... unless this is evidence of the US armed forces giving out medals for learning to drive and showing up on parade more than once a week. :-) Incidentally, does anyone recognise her uniform? (I assume Jeanty would use a photo of a real woman officer as a guide for his sketch). It being blue kind of makes me think she's in the Air Force, although her shoulder badge has crossed sabres, which implies a cavalry unit.
And she's riding in an unmarked black helicopter, which should please all the conspiracy freaks out there. :-) (ETA: the helicopter in question appears to be an MH-60 Black Hawk, a US Army design used for special operations (see the film 'Black Hawk Down' for an example).)
We get more exposition on Twilight's plan, added to what Roden said earlier in the issue. I did comment in a previous review on the oddness of the organisation having both magic-users and technology, and now we see the explanation - Roden and Gigi were expendable puppets, and Twilight was manoeuvring for their mutual destruction along with Buffy. He also sees the break between Giles and Buffy as a victory for his side... and it's now confirmed that there's a traitor in Buffy's team. A male traitor ("our man on the inside"), which does kinda limit the options... Oh Xander, how could you?! (But see also below. :-) )
Roden speaks of being promised "clemency from the coming purge" (one suspects he was lied to, in the light of Twilight's words), and Twilight here states his aim openly: "bringing the age of magic to a close". Which is interesting, in the light of what we know from Fray:
"It was some hundreds of years ago, in the twenty-first century. What we know is this - there was a battle. A Slayer, possibly with some mystical allies, faced an apocalyptic army of demons. And when it was done... they were gone. All demons, all magicks, banished from this Earthly dimension."
"And the Slayer? Did she--?"
"I do not know if she lived. But the demons being gone, she was the last to be Called."
- Joss Whedon, 'Fray'
I'm thinking it's not a coincidence that Twilight's evil plan seems to have the same aim.
And now the big question. Who is Twilight? There's already been some speculation on this when the Issue 11 cover was previewed, since he appears on that too. The simplest option is that he's just some guy in a fancy suit, whom we've never met before. Given his apparent hatred of magic it's a little incongruous for him to be flying when we first see him, but maybe he's actually using a technological anti-gravity device or something instead. (And also, it seems that he was the one watching Buffy's commando raid in Episode 1). However, there have been some hints dropped that the Big Bad will be someone familiar; a returning character. So in that light, what are the possibilities?
1) Adam would be the most obvious. He's already a cyborg; if he somehow managed to get re-activated with a new power source, there's no reason why he couldn't upgrade himself further. He's got the military connections and knowledge... and after Buffy defeated him using magic, he's got a good motivation to really, really hate magic and want to banish it from the world. Also, Twilight's plan to stir up his enemies to fight each other is reminiscent of Adam's plan in 'The Yoko Factor' on a larger scale.
2) Personally, I like the idea of it being Caleb. Yes, the last we saw of Caleb he'd just been unseamed from the chaps to the nave by Buffy's Scythe... but here, Twilight is tightly wrapped with straps bound around his waist, a breastplate and an all-over face-covering that would neatly hide the join if he were, in fact, the two halves of Caleb crudely stuck back together and re-animated by the power of the First. Warren's reappearance in the first arc could therefore act as foreshadowing for the eventual reveal of who's behind Twilight's mask. Caleb is an experienced leader and has lots of contacts, though not specifically in the military field (though I bet The First could arrange that); and after his master's big plan was foiled by magic and the massed Slayers, getting rid of both would seem attractive to him.
3) It's Andrew. That nerdy, bumbling façade is just an act, and he really is the evil mastermind he claimed to be. Really. And he's the traitor himself, playing a double game.
So. Where do we go from here?