The big bad of season 8 is called Twilight.
The character with the most mysterious and unexplained arc in season 8 is called Dawn.
Anyway, my first impression of 'A Beautiful Sunset' was that it felt rather flat, like nothing much happened... which is odd for an episode that advances the main season arc as well as answering several important questions - even including the 'Does Buffy know if Spike is alive?' one. On further thought I think that's rather unfair - it really didn't help that the most important new development was given to us a month ago in the preview; but also, I think I've got used to the Season 8 style of story telling that wraps mysteries inside enigmas inside conundrums. An episode where everything is plain and straightforward and questions are answered without new ones being posed just seems unnatural. Also, this was in many ways a fluffy episode - not quite comedy, but heading in that direction - and personally I've always preferred the doom and angst. (But not the episode 'Doomed', which is my 155th least favourite BtVS episode so far...).
I also suspect that a lot of ideas which Joss puts across in this issue, which to me just seem fairly obvious, will turn out to be quite controversial...
...Case in point being Buffy's unhesitating description of the Slayer Empowerment Spell as a 'good thing'. Clearly the writer of this story doesn't buy into the whole "What Buffy and Willow did in 'Chosen' was tantamount to mass rape" idea that some people espouse. It's interesting that the value of the empowerment is seen as not so much the strength ("though that does come in handy", as Buffy points out) but the sense of purpose and connection. I can see that - we know that nobody forces Slayers to sign up to fight evil any more, so presumably the girls in Team Buffy have all made a conscious decision. They know there are bad things in the world, but they also know that they, personally, now have enough power to help change that. They can actually make a difference themselves, and that's a powerful and positive thing to know. It's all very political and a metaphor for all sorts of real-world things, of course: and it's continuing the theme from 'The Chain'. Also, issue #10 was all about division and heartache and betrayal, so it's a nice contrast to make the theme of #11 'connection'.
In the montage of scenes from Chosen, Baseball Girl was drawn perfectly, but I'm afraid I only recognised Vi because she's standing behind Rona's right shoulder, just as she was in the TV show. Also, the sparkly red CGI glow is a new touch; I like the way a soft afterimage of it is still outlining the Slayers as they train at the bottom of the page.
Here's a question: is this supposed to be Satsu?
The lockers are drawn in an identical way. However, the girl in the screencap is wearing jeans, t-shirt and jacket, not blouse, tie and skirt the way Satsu's been pictured here; and her hair's different. I'd be happy if it is her, though - and put down the differences in clothing to artistic licence and/or a mistake (wouldn't be the first time *cough*Willowseyecolour*cough*...). Not only is it a nice touch of continuity, but it makes Satsu an actual Character Who Was On The Show and thus, according to some people, worthy of being a romantic interest of the Core Four. ;-)
Speaking of continuity, we've seen Simone twice before already, so it's nice to have it confirmed that that was foreshadowing. The moral message is pretty clear and obvious: Buffy crossed the line herself with her bank robbery, and now her followers are doing the same thing except with more violence. Buffy gave them power... but she can't control how they choose to use it, and some of them are making bad choices. That's what happens when you give people power without first chaining them to the earth (literally or metaphorically)...
Mind you, Simone herself would probably argue that she can fight evil much more effectively now that her team has automatic weapons and grenades; like she said in #2, she can now "do some real damage". Question is, to what? I expect her to become an ongoing subplot for much of the rest of the season.
On a side note, I know someone in real life who tends to hand me her coffee cup after she's finished with it the way Buffy does to Xander here, even if she's just as close to the kitchen as I am... :-)
Also, we've known at least since 'Chosen' that Buffy's a slasher at heart, but it's nice to get further confirmation. Assuming "that would be nice" is a reply to the idea of Xander getting a man, rather than her thinking she's like one for herself too, of course - though it could be both. Both Xander and Buffy seem to share a common opinion of Andrew that he's not the sort of person you'd want to bond with: they haven't been mysteriously converted into admirers of him despite putting him in charge of a squad. Mind you, they seem to be blaming Rona rather than Andrew for Simone going off the rails, although there might be an element of "well, what do you expect from Andrew?" in that.
In the preview I thought the glow reflected off Buffy and Xander's faces was either a surprise party, Inverness being nuked, or the light of lots of candles that Xander had lit so that he and Buffy could have sex next to them. Looks like guess no. 1 was correct... though it was a general party rather than Buffy's birthday party.
Dawn's size relative to the girls climbing over her is much smaller than I depicted her in my fic 'Netherlands to Nepal', meaning that Willow could have stood on the ground and wouldn't have fallen off twice. (If you don't understand that last sentence, be thankful...) Her drinking from opened beer kegs is cute, but I also liked the image of one of the Slayers casually lifting one of them while chatting to her friend as if it were made of polystyrene. (and in general, the way the image shows people who are clearly from all over the world)
Some other points of note: we have confirmation that Dawn is at least 18 (the drinking age in Scotland), making this episode no earlier than late 2004/early 2005, and not yet 21 (the drinking age in California) so it's no later than late 2007/early 2008. Xander has kept Dawn's confidence and not told Buffy what she said about Kenny and Nick last issue. And apparently Satsu and Renee are dancing together in a "we're both attracted to members of the Core
Four/ Three/Two secret club" kind of way while Leah watches with a drink in her hand. Either Rowena is off doing her own thing or she's the blonde girl next to Leah and totally unrecognisable because she's not wearing her baseball cap... I do think this is the first time we've seen Renee interact with any of that group.
Edit: We already suspect Renee is a demon because Xander likes her... but notice here that she's brazenly and openly wearing the Tight Black Leather Trousers of Evil. She's definitely the traitor...
So back in the day, Buffy wore blue. Did the Germans wear grey?
Notice how every single act break in this issue has one character saying something which is then reflected or taken up by the characters in the next scene?
Satsu's fall and the mud are slapstick, though Buffy's in a serious mood: she pretty much slaps Satsu down when she makes a joke, which is quite jarring. Mentoring Slayers is serious business, especially if - as we now learn - Buffy considers Satsu as potential "her eventual replacement as leader" material.
Loved the reference to Buffy's dream in 'Restless'.
The next bit, with two characters having a serious emotional heart-to-heart in the middle of fighting vampires, is very much a standard BtVS trope, but it's always a fun one. I loved the futile attempts of the vampires to interject, and Buffy's dismissive replies. And kicking one high up into the air so he catches the first rays of the rising sun is an inspired move... Satsu herself was pretty impressive too, as befits Buffy's chosen heir: drawing her sword and beheading the vampire running up behind her without even looking round is a classic samurai sort of move.
As for the emotional content of the scene: it was pretty much the way I thought it would go, though of course I'm pleased to be proven right.
:-) Watching Satsu's successive reactions was instructive: she's embarrassed and ashamed when Buffy criticises her for getting her jump wrong (she wants to look good in front of her); she's struggling to remain impassive when she thinks Buffy might be leaving, and while Buffy is, in effect, stroking her face to clean the mud off (doesn't want her to know how she really feels). When she realises Buffy does know she's in love with her she's horrified (and angry because the lip gloss gave it away), then gets really upset when she thinks that now Buffy won't want her around. I think she's resigned herself to the idea that she stands no chance of a relationship with Buffy - but probably can't resist hoping that maybe she's wrong and she will be interested after all.
Is she wrong? Buffy's never come across as anything other than thoroughly heterosexual before.. well, depending on your opinions on her feelings for Faith. Personally, I thought that the fact that Buffy was willing to joke about the fact that the two of them were in a relationship (the "really, we're just good friends" scene in the Bronze) was good evidence that she didn't actually take such a possibility seriously. (What Faith's opinions were on that subject is another question entirely, of course.) Buffy doesn't contradict that idea here either - although I can't help but comment that as an answer to "You're not gay", "Not so you'd notice" is rather more ambiguous than a flat-out "Sorry, no.". :-)
In fact, Buffy is clearly pleased and flattered by Satsu's attraction to her, and obviously feels something for her too, even if it's non-sexual. Just look at her body language all through the issue - from the intimacy of cleaning Satsu's face, to kicking her across the set (what? She did that to Spike all the time when she was having a relationship with him...), to hugging her and cradling her head when she cries, to perching on her hospital bed and leaning forward all big-eyed and parted-lips and holding her hand. This could be Buffy's long-unsuspected-by-anyone-but-Faith bi side finally emerging. Just as likely, she's clinging to Satsu as her new best friend now that things are so awkward with Willow, and isn't used to governing her actions to make sure that they can't be interpreted as sexual come-ons the way she automatically would with a platonic male friend.
I don't know where they're heading with all this... but I can see Buffy almost falling into a relationship with Satsu by accident: because she's lonely, and feeling isolated from everybody except the other Slayers; and she likes Satsu and appreciates her supportiveness and is flattered by the attention; and while she's got no sexual interest in her she's not squicked by the idea either; and she feels guilty for not giving Satsu what she wants when Satsu does so much for Buffy... Someone should write the fic. Though I can't see it having a happy ending.
And then there's the speech that I suspect will be analysed to death, when Buffy breaks down in tears. Although I'm generally happy with the comic format, this is one speech that would be so much better spoken by the actress rather than written as a flat paragraph of text. I wonder how much we'd have to pay Sarah Prinze to record the audiobook version of this comic? Anyway, the reference to people who love Buffy "burning up" seems pretty clear proof that she doesn't know that Spike came back afterwards, although I admit it's not entirely conclusive - Angel came back from Hell too. She clearly misses him (and Angel, and Riley) an awful lot, though. Though the reference to friends leaving too suggests that it's Willow's estrangement that has really triggered this outburst - and Buffy has taken to heart the idea that it's her fault.
The fact that Buffy refers to her lovers in the order Angel-Spike-Riley will doubtless enrage Spuffies and delight Bangels everywhere, especially since it's not chronological (in which case it would have been Angel-Riley-Spike).
Oh yeah, and the Big Bad also makes an appearance. Really, this is almost an anticlimax, the weakest part of the issue. The only reason Twilight shows up is to make a "mwah-ha-ha" speech ("I actually came here to talk"), bash Buffy around to show how powerful he is, and make her doubt herself. So far, so Adam/Glory/Caleb (delete as applicable).
It is interesting that Twilight's main aim was to "strip Buffy of her moral certainty" - something which quite a few readers believe needs to be done anyway. So again, Twilight the Big Bad is actually doing something we can sympathise with... But he reckoned without Xander's own superpower, as well as Buffy's connection to Satsu. (And notice that her defiant speech, after the classic-Joss "church me", is to tell Twilight that she's not alone, there are plenty of other girls ready to step into her shoes?)
The fight was impressive, although I didn't recognise the scenery: those buildings looked more Dutch or German than Scottish, although I'm not sufficiently familiar with Scottish architecture to say for sure. Anybody recognise anything? Other questions: how did Twilight watch Buffy and Willow? (Amusing speculation: Twilight's secret identity is actually Georges Jeanty, Joss Whedon or Scott Allie :-) ). Why does Twilight's posse include a bunch of demons - I thought he was opposed to them? (or is he, *gasp*, a hypocrite?) I assume the woman was Lieutenant Molter, but the man didn't look like General Voll - is he still around?
I laughed at the so-called reveal of Twilight's face. Another reason why I call this a comedy episode. So, what do we know about Twilight? He's male, white, square-chinned, and wears a mask and cape. He can fly, and is super-strong. Sounds very much like your cliché comic superhero, in fact... which makes me wonder if it's Andrew's secret identity. Or Warren has had a chin-skin transplant since we last saw him.
On the other hand, I've also speculated that Twilight is Caleb, with those belts around his waist holding his bisected parts back together. Here's some more evidence to support this theory:
1. The second page of the comic includes a flashback of Caleb just to remind us about him.
2. "Always complaining, just like a girl" is typical Calebian misogyny. So is the talking about Buffy crying, later.
3. The clincher: Buffy tries to swing the Scythe up between Twilight's legs - just like she did to Caleb - and he says "I know that move, Slayer" as he stops her.
Plus, I can really hear Nathan Fillion saying the line "The trick is to strip her of her greatest armour... her moral certainty" with the same intonation he used in 'Dirty Girls' to say "The strongest, the fastest, the most aflame with that most precious invention of all mankind... the notion of goodness."
A lot of the nasty moments in season 8 have taken place, coincidentally enough, at twilight. But now, as Twilight gloats about his victory we see Buffy hugging Satsu and watching a beautiful sunrise (as opposed to a beautiful Dawn). In fact, this episode ends on a surprisingly hopeful note. Buffy telling Satsu that they'll both heal. Satsu actually making a slightly sarcastic joke. (We can deduce from the radical way she customised her combat outfit that she's hardly a conformist at heart, but previously she's always been entirely proper and respectful around Buffy, being careful to call her 'ma'am'.) Xander giving Buffy a pep-talk about giving people purpose and connection. Buffy encouraging Xander to ask Renee to go out with him - which is building on her raised eyebrows about them being 'sparring partners' back in the Faith arc. (Admittedly, it also puts a stake through the heart of any Buffy/Xander shippers reading who thought they were sure to get together now based on the preview. I wonder if Buffy's eagerness to see Xander paired off has any implications for her own feelings about Satsu??)
So Buffy's still feeling not-so-much connected and mopey... but that's practically her default state these days, so no shock there. As Xander says, being the leader is famous for being a lonely role. The big question is, what's the huge reveal in the next episode that Joss has warned retailers to buy in extra copies for?