Joss, you bastard.
Or possibly, Drew, you bastard.
Whoever thought this plot twist up, they're making a pretty good job of turning Toru and his gang into the sort of villains you really, really hate. So even though I urgently want to see them receiving a righteous smackdown in the next episode, I'm also kind of hoping they escape to return again in future episodes. Anyway, on to the review.
The opening scene of Aiko strung up as a welcome message is the sort of thing that's effective as long as you can suspend your disbelief... like, how did Toru know where and when Buffy would land? Presumably they put Aiko there immediately before the other Slayers arrived, since the police haven't had chance to intervene... but that still doesn't explain why Buffy is actually allowed to cut her down and take her body away without the authorities objecting. It's either the Japanese version of Sunnydale forgettyitis in full bloom, or the Tokyo police are even more deeply stupid than the Sunnydale ones... or maybe they're been bribed by Toru's gang to stay well away from the area and let Buffy deal with the body herself.
I assume that it's Satsu standing at Buffy's right shoulder... she's wearing the same red circular hair ornament she is later on, although it's on the opposite side of her head then. (If this were TV I'd call that a continuity error.) If it is her, this scene does at least prove that she can read and speak Japanese, making it more likely that she is in fact Japanese herself and not an Asian-American or some such.
The Japanese version of Castle Slayer is even more impressive than the Scottish one. I'm not sure why Aiko's body has been wrapped like that; as far as I can tell (from Wikipedia, where else?) it's not a normal Japanese or Buddhist custom. As I've mentioned before, the scene where Buffy carries her in her arms past the horrified spectators is very reminiscent of the similar scene in 'Fray'.
It's very in character of Buffy to carry Aiko's body like that, being all dutiful and strong (and solitary) until she's finally alone, at which point she curls up into a ball and sits there brooding for hours. You can tell why Angel liked her. It's also nice to see that for all their recent quarrels Willow is still there to be supportive.
Mind you, I'm not sure Tara would approve of Willow 'conjuring up some blankets' instead of just going to fetch some. Unless either Willow was joking (or being metaphorical), or else using magic to meet trivial everyday needs is only dangerous and addictive for witches at a certain stage of development, which Willow has now got past. This scene did get a bit heavy on the exposition of things we already know, I thought - though it's interesting that Willow is happy to refer fondly to Giles, so whatever quarrel he had with Buffy doesn't apply to her. (She's also the one with his number in her phone, if you remember).
Dracula is great in this scene - supercilious, arrogant, snarky, annoying and saying exactly the most appalling thing he could possibly have said. Willow, on the other hand, is adorable, from her enthusiastic "And Xander!" to the way she dubiously sniffs at her armpits after Dracula comes out with his "acrid stench" crack, then insecurely tucks her hands under her arms.
So, Toru's gang have a "robotics division", do they? I dread to think what we're going to see in episode 8.15. I'm thinking that cyber-ninja are going to be the most likely (especially given what happened in Angel Season 5), although I wouldn't entirely rule out a mass of killer 'Smile Time' puppets... However, what I'm really hoping for is that they've built a squad of 12-metre tall fusion-powered battle robots, so we can have a grand mecha-versus-giant-teenager battle next month.
Renee is good at acting baity. (It took me a moment to recognise her). I did like her line about the street signs being in Japanese. Incidentally, Willow still sucks at Latin. As far as I can tell, "Constrixi deficio" is meaningless: although 'deficio' does mean "I cease", there's no such word as "constrixi". ("Constrinxi" with an 'n' means "I restrained").
Buffy shows her ruthless side. I actually felt sorry for the vampire for a moment, until I remembered that he was in fact planning to eat Renee before he got caught. It's obvious that Buffy never realised that the Slayer spell could be reversed, and she's horrified by the idea.
And then there's the other side to Buffy. There was speculation before that she would abuse her power to show favouritism to Satsu, and that's exactly what seems to be going on here... although when Satsu says she doesn't know if it's to avoid her or protect her, I'm not sure myself which is the right answer. For that matter, I'm not sure if Buffy herself knows... or maybe she honestly thought she was making the best tactical decision by leaving Satsu in charge of the Japanese Slayers, and didn't realise how it would be perceived.
Those who argue that the Slayer organisation is a strict military hierarchy where everybody has to obey orders should note that Satsu here says to Buffy's face "I'm not following your orders", and apparently doesn't suffer any consequences. In a real army, she could be shot for less.
And it seems that Buffy's sexual attraction to Satsu wasn't entirely a one night stand kind of thing. :-) Much to her own confusion and disbelief. So, does Buffy get off on being called 'Ma'am' in general, because she's a control freak with megalomaniac tendencies? Or is it specifically something about the way Satsu says it? One thing for certain is that it's not submissiveness that turns her on, given the way I imagine Satsu angrily spat out that last 'Ma'am' as she left...
And from one loving couple to another. Given what happens later, the comparison to Tara and Willow in 'Seeing Red' is unavoidable. This scene is cute and funny and touching and occasionally silly, especially when Dracula joins in. He so wants to be invited to a threesome date with them, you can just tell.
And Renee says "Now you don't have to worry about what happens at the end." Can we say "dramatic irony?"
Interesting line-up for the start of the big battle. Buffy. Satsu, right there just as she threatened. Xander and Renee. Dracula being snarky. Andrew, for some unknown reason. And Leah, but no Rowena. I'm beginning to worry about Rowena, we haven't seen her for months... I liked Buffy's comment about "they can't hurt us" followed by her immediate qualification.
Willow's next bit of Latin still sucks, but not as badly. "Dea pro mihi, audite meus dico" means, literally, "Goddess for me, listen my I say" At least you can figure out what she was trying to say. And "Patefacio prodigium pro nos totus" means "I reveal the monster for us all", although the case endings don't match. Still, she's evidently powerful enough that she can make her magic work despite getting the words wrong.
"Hi. Or, I mean... roar?" has to be one of the best lines of the season. Although Dawn's cameo appearance did seem a bit of a let-down after all the build-up it's had.
And then we have the shock ending. Like I said at the start, if we didn't hate Toru already, we do now. (At least those of us with any soul do...) Killing one very new character in a particularly brutal fashion was bad enough, but now they've killed one of the most sympathetic and interesting of the Season 8 characters, who's been built up over 13 episodes just for this.
Also, now both Xander and Willow have had their girlfriend's lifeblood splashed over their face. I'm hoping Xander doesn't react the way Willow did in 'Villains', but I honestly don't know how he's going to take this. Well, apart from 'badly' but that's a given.
Before continuing, there is one thing I feel I ought to say. What happened to Renee would probably be fatal within 20-30 seconds for any normal human - shock, bloodloss and breakdown of the circulatory system leading to oxygen starvation of the brain and thus death. But Renee's not a normal human, and she's got a person who's now apparently capable of healing her own lobotomy and blinding standing right next to her. The Scythe also appears to have penetrated the right side of her chest, not the left or centre, so may have missed the heart. In other words, I'm not ready to completely write her off as dead and not coming back until we've seen the next issue. I'm inclined to think she is dead, mind you, but we'll see.
Of course, it's not the first time Renee has been stabbed through the chest from behind, which now can be seen as foreshadowing. Also, she's hanging about with Vlad the Impaler, so this form of death is ironic from that point of view too. (And maybe Dracula knows ways to keep people alive after they've been impaled?)
Now, I've not read any other reviews before writing this, in order to remain unspoiled. But I'm willing to bet that there's already a controversy brewing over two facts, namely 1) "How predictable, Joss killed off a character's love interest just as they were getting close." (2) "How predictable, the black woman was the one who got killed." Am I right?
There's probably also a conspiracy theory getting started that Drew killed off Renee to clear the path for a Xander/Dracula romance. Or possibly Buffy/Xander, as they comfort each other over their loss(es).
Regarding the first charge; I kind of agree, it is becoming a formula. And yet, it's a formula because it works... I was still shocked (yes, and surprised) by the last page of this issue. And horrified, and angry, and worried as to how the other characters will react now, and what's going to happen next. Which is presumably exactly how Drew wanted me to react.
Of course, I'll be impressed if it turns out there's a twist still to come, or if the characters themselves recognise and react to the fact that being romantically involved with a Scooby is likely to be fatal. It's been hinted that there'll be a memorable Buffy/Satsu moment at the end of the next issue, and I'm wondering now if it will be her agreeing with Buffy's warning in 8.11 to stay away from her for her own safety, and so deciding to remain behind in Japan.
Which will be a pity. After 14 issues the new characters were starting to acquire personalities and recognisable characteristics, and to lose both Renee and Satsu in a single arc would not be good.
As for the second charge... I can sympathise with the argument, even if I don't entirely agree. I was actually quite impressed, given all the criticism of Joss for his previous shows being almost all-white, that he introduced love interests for both Buffy and Xander who were non-white. Of course, given the life expectancy of Scooby girlfriends this was bound to come back to haunt him eventually, and I'd have been unimpressed too if he'd chosen to give Renee and Satsu a free pass, because their ethnicity rendered them immune to harm. So in a way, poor Joss couldn't win either way.
And now I want to know what happens next.