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(Review) BtVS 8.15 'Wolves at the Gate' Part 4

5th June 2008 (20:45)

An interesting episode... with a few surprises, and some twists that I - well, I hate to brag.
Oh who am I kidding, I love to brag. I totally called them. :-)

Renee's death was incredibly touching and a very effective piece of comics artistry, with her thoughts, and the background fading away until all she can see is Xander, and then he fades too. Compare the very similar scene at the end of 8.05 'The Chain', incidentally. There's been some discussion of what her words meant. "I hope he knows. I never got to tell him" caused a bit of debate on the grounds that it was too early in their relationship for her to be talking about being in love with him, and so she had some other confession in mind ("I'm the traitor!". Nah, probably not.). Personally, I think it's exactly that, for exactly that reason... it was too early in their relationship and she didn't want to scare him off, so she never said the words "I love you" and now she never will.

'Rule number one' is the other source of debate. The consensus seems to be that it's what Buffy said to Faith in 3.03 'Faith, Hope and Trick': "First rule of Slaying: don't die." Or alternatively, it's what she said to Satsu in 8.11 'A Beautiful Sunset': "A few key rules [...] Number one is you are always in danger." I prefer the second, not only because it's more recent but because it's what Renee obviously forgot; she didn't look behind her.

And so the comic begins with one of the two main new people introduced in Season 8 - both as love interests for major characters - dying. I hope Satsu doesn't also get written out at the end of the comic... oops.

Last month, I commented that Renee's wound would not be instantly fatal, especially to a Slayer, and Willow was standing right there and could probably heal her... unless something intervened. And guess what? Renee's wound wasn't instantly fatal... and Willow was prevented from healing her by Kumiko grabbing her and throwing her out the window. It's almost as if Drew read my mind...  (I didn't notice what happened to Willow on first reading - Renee's death and Xander's reaction kind of overshadowed it - but it's right there on the page).

As for Xander's reaction, and Buffy and Dracula's reactions to his reaction, they were all three of them spot on. Dracula finally turning badass ("He's not alone") was a shiver-inducing moment.

Satsu seemed rather thrown at being suddenly landed with the command - but notice how she's casually decapitating a vampire as she turns to talk to Buffy? It seems her accolade as "my best fighter" is definitely deserved.

And Willow finds herself in a magical duel with someone who's just as strong as her, for the second time this season. I think the fears that she's now too omnipotent to be interesting are misplaced. I loved Ishihara Kumiko's polite introduction of herself, and her casual deflection of Willow's spells. (And for the record: 'incursio' means 'attack', 'decrete' is 'disappear' (technically, it's the vocative form of the past participle: "O thing which has disappeared!"), 'percussus' means 'striking' and 'consti' is probably meant to mean 'stand firm'.) I'm not sure what Willow was trying to do when she said 'talk to me', but I'm guessing what actually happened was not the desired effect...

And the snake goddess is back! In my fanfic I've been calling her Nehushtan, who was a snake spirit in Hebrew mythology, but her real name turns out to be Saga Vasuki - and Vasuki was a snake spirit in Hindu mythology. So close... It seems that Willow was her student, and so was Kumiko (obviously not at the same time) - but the implication was that Willow ran away or hid, because she didn't like what Vasuki revealed to her. "Did you think you could hide from what you are? Or what's to come?" is definitely an echo of Dracula's words to Buffy in 5.01 'Buffy vs Dracula': "You think you know:  what you are, what's to come. You haven't even begun. Find it. The darkness. Find your true nature."  I'm quoting the Dracula version of that phrase here because Tara/The First Slayer's version of it in 4.22 'Restless' had the order reversed. Also, the follow-up is significant.

It's been pointed out that in 8.10 'Anywhere But Here', we all assumed that Buffy's secret crime was a huge moral failing, and Willow's bad thing was just a minor sexual transgression... but if she's been learning powerful magic from the same demon goddess who taught Kumiko, then maybe it's her transgression that will be even more deadly.  Mind you, I'm not getting the vibe that Saga Vasuki is necessarily Evil with a capital 'E', as opposed to just being powerful and dangerous and perhaps a little amoral. Just like Willow herself, in other words. :-)  I wonder if Willow's "Goddess..." as she faints is just an exclamation, or if she's addressing Saga Vasuki? My money's on the second, and the snake woman is indeed a goddess. Or even The Goddess.

What does her vision foretell? That's New York on fire, you can tell by the Chrysler Building in the foreground with Vasuki's tail wrapped around it. Is Vasuki causing the apocalypse, or merely showing it to Willow? Or is the implication that Willow herself will cause the apocalypse, and that's why she ran away? And what does the Scythe have to do with it? Considering that the blurb for the next arc talks about Buffy and Willow going to New York to find out more about the Scythe, I suspect we'll soon find out. Trivia point that may not be trivial at all: the Chrysler Building is also the one recognisable New York landmark that's still visible in the 23rd century, according to the 'Fray' comics.

Buffy is definitely afraid of heights... but like a true hero, overcomes her fear when her friends are in trouble. Clearly Kumiko was controlling her descent through magic, and not accelerating downwards at 9.8 metres per second squared, or Buffy would never have caught them when she jumped... I wonder if Kumiko's staking will prove fatal, or not? She doesn't immediately turn to dust, although she'd kind of leaking something (not blood, maybe dust or mist) as she falls away, and she doesn't reappear when Toru needs her later in the episode. It would be a shame to lose her completely; not only is she a match for Willow in terms of power, but in many ways she's her dark twin. Both students of the same master... and while Willow's magic empowered the Slayers, Kumiko's magic was intended to take their power away again. She'd make a good recurring antagonist.

Rowena gets to appear again; she wasn't left behind after all. She's also in command of this squad, it appears. I noticed two dead Slayers on the ground in this fight scene. And Dawn gets to be all commandery and assertive. Good for her. I missed it at first, but she isn't just stamping her foot to get attention; she squished that vampire in panther form that was about to attack Rowena (you can see the blood). I'm glad she gets more than just a cameo role this time, as opposed to last issue.

I wasn't expecting Mecha-Dawn, I have to say... although I did predict that she'd be fighting a 50-foot tall mecha battle robot, so I got that bit right. :-) 

Toru's incantation includes the phrase 'inter canem et lupum' which is (perfect) Latin for 'between dog and wolf'. 'Makurayami' sounds Japanese; my dictionary says 'makura' means 'pillow' and 'yami' means 'darkness', but that makes the kind of sense that's not. Satsu grabbing the Scythe is very dramatic - and brave of her - and she accidentally gets to emulate Buffy by being the second Slayer to leap off a tall building that day.

I did like Buffy and Willow bickering, and Willow's pouty "I never wanted to sleep with you either." Yeah, right, Willow, we believe you. :-) Nothing surprising here to me, at any rate... except maybe Buffy's list of women she would supposedly go to bed with. We might believe Willow, Buffy, but we don't believe you. Willow's protectiveness of Satsu felt right, and followed up nicely from her reaction earlier in the arc; she had The Talk with Satsu and now she's having the equivalent one with Buffy. And finally, loved the way in the last panel their heads are both slightly tilted as they watch Satsu's trajectory down towards the ground...

And then they make a dramatic entrance back to the battle, Willow all stern and Buffy and Satsu in mirrored poses as they leap into battle. Incidentally, Satsu's wielding her sword in her left hand here, as she was earlier in the issue as well... but later on it's in her right hand. The pose and framing of the picture here is too deliberate for it to be a simple continuity error, so I'm guessing it's now canon that she's ambidextrous. When it comes to swordfighting, she can swing both ways.

No jokes about Buffy being the same now, please. :-)

And I was right also that Dracula's sword (that he keeps locked away in a cabinet with the key around his neck) was special, and the only thing that could remove his powers... and that he accepted this as the price of defeating them. Willow's spell includes some words of Latin - 'Aufero' is 'I take away', 'incruentatus' (with an 'r') means 'unstained with blood' and 'Lacrimo Augustino' means 'I weep for Augustinus' - but the rest is gibberish. And the spell - cast by Willow, enabled by Dracula - turns Toru's gang into normal Slayable vampires again. Yay.

The Dawnbot is not nearly as realistic as the Buffybot, although almost as cute. I liked Dawn's reaction to its gibes, especially the last one about letting boys take advantage of her... that sounded Significant to the Plot if ever I heard the like. And you know what? A minor miracle happened: I even really liked Andrew's role in this scene.

Also loved Satsu's accidental admission that she knows what Buffy tastes like. And alert readers might spot that Buffy being choked by a vampire who is then staked from behind by her fellow-Slayer, who appears through the cloud of dust, has happened to her before, back in 3.15 'Consequences'. Except that Satsu has stepped into the role of Faith. So to speak. ;-)

It wasn't entirely clear to me at first, but Toru grabs the sword as Willow throws it to Dracula, then Dracula grabs it back. This speech was another excellent scene for him - and a reminder that human, ensouled Vlad Dracul was a worse monster than almost any vampire. Thank goodness he's on Xander's side now, eh? I wonder if his being reduced to 'an ordinary vampire' will be permanent, or if he'll find a way to get his powers back? I suspect he will, somehow... Also, another point: both Angel and Spike had notable speeches contrasting the man and the monster within them, and now Dracula has had the same. His demolition of Toru is brutally efficient - vengeance fans should be happy - and then he lets Xander give the coup de grace.

Okay, I was wrong about Xander killing Dracula himself; it was Toru he beheaded. :-)  I liked the background detail that as Satsu relays Buffy's command to hunt down and kill every single vampire left standing, Buffy herself goes over to comfort Xander, who's thrown down the sword and sunk to his knees.

I'm pretty sure there's a continuity error on this page: the radio message says "Leah to Command. They're rabbiting..." but Leah's standing right there. I suspect it should have said "Rowena to Command" and either the writer or the artist got the two of them mixed up. Buffy's 'kill them all' speech sounds ruthless and vengeful, and I'm sure that's the mood she was in; but really, it's nothing exceptional. Slayers aren't supposed to let evil, soulless vampires get away.

The last scene between Dracula and Xander was kind of touching. Even in his grieving and unshaven state - I wonder how long he's been out there? - he's capable of a defiant kind of wit. He's also clearly not under any sort of thrall... and Dracula seems to respect him.

Slash fans will no doubt wonder how Xander could be threatening to kill Dracula "in his sleep" unless he planned at some future point in time to be, well, sleeping with him. :-)

The scene between Buffy and Satsu is sweet and touching. I did predict that Satsu would ask to stay behind in Japan because she can't be around Buffy anymore, but I didn't predict that they'd go to bed together again anyway... Though I was sure 8.12 wasn't just purely a one-night stand from Buffy's point of view, and this proves it. Indeed, it was one of the best nights of her life. Of course, Satsu was still there beside her in the morning, didn't turn evil, hasn't so far started going off to vampire brothels, and doesn't make her feel sick and dirty inside for wanting her; so no wonder Buffy had fun...

A small but important point: notice that Buffy's immediate reaction to "that's never gonna happen when you're right in front of me" is "you want me to leave?" I doubt that it would actually be practical for Buffy to be the one to leave - I imagine the other Slayers would have something to say to that if she walked out on them - but it's still interesting that this is her spur-of-the-moment response. Then she kneels on the floor next to Satsu and says she hopes she didn't hurt her. It doesn't look like there's a huge power imbalance in this relationship, and I certainly hope there aren't people out there still thinking Buffy's treatment of Satsu is as bad as the way Parker treated her... I just wonder, as the song says, where do we go from here? I'd hate to see Satsu as well as Renee written out of the show so early, after we've just got to know her. I'm guessing it won't happen, that she'll be absent for a few arcs then make her reappearance some time next year, but I'll miss her.

The last page is clearly warning us that this is the pause before the hurricane. Willow is summoning Saga Vasuki again, clearly having accepted that she can't run away from her destiny, and Dracula's voice-over tells us that she has a cold journey ahead of her. Buffy and Satsu are finding what warmth they can for now... obviously implying there won't be any more for a long, long time. And Xander has to stand watch alone - perhaps in more ways than one. And he hates being called a watcher.

***

And according to Scott Allie, "some of the characters that started in Buffy, then went to Angel" will be appearing in Season 8, although not for a long time yet (remember, the season has another two years left to run). Which ones? Spike and Angel will obviously be the most popular choices, I suspect. Cordelia is dead, but that might not stop her. Wesley is also dead, but that's even less likely to stop him. Personally, though, I'm hoping the characters to appear will be Harmony and Chanterellelilyanne, just for the irony. :-)

And next issue will feature even more people falling off the top of tall buildings. This is becoming a habit.
.

Comments

Posted by: fix me, motherfucker! i'm standing right here. (immortality)
Posted at: 6th June 2008 01:03 (UTC)

I hope Satsu's not gone forever. I liked her. :[

As for Willow . . . I really wish they'd stop turning her into dark!Willow any time she gets powerful. Yes absolute power corrupts and all that, and yes she's been evil before, but I feel like this is all they ever do with her character now. If they're not constantly reminding us she likes women, they're reminding us that she was evil (and could still become evil).

This is why I'm hoping she's not the traitor. They're brought her down an evil road before, I don't want to just see a repeat of all that. But, if they do want to make her evil, I'm just hoping they'll do it right this time, and have Willow be evil because she's addicted to power, not because magic is evil and a metaphor for drug use. :/

Maybe it's just me, but I'm tired of seeing Willow always being the evil one. Give Xander a storyline for once -- God knows if he became dark!Xander, everyone would think it was "cool," because Xander can do know wrong and Willow's just a bad character.

(Sorry, ranting. I like Xander, I'm just sick of everyone ragging on Willow because she always gets stuck with these storylines. :/)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 6th June 2008 01:21 (UTC)
willow-nothingonearth

I didn't mention it in the review, but it is actually something I noticed: Willow does not turn into Dark Willow in this arc, at any time. Her hair stays red even when she's summoning the snake goddess in the final panel. Her eyes have gone black a few times, but the hair and veininess was only once, with Amy, when "she pissed me off".

So I don't think she's turning Evil. I do think, as I posted elsewhere, that she has a tendency not so much to play with fire, as to douse herself in gasoline and juggle lighted matches. But that's Willow. She just wants to learn stuff so she can help people and fix things that go wrong...

Posted by: fix me, motherfucker! i'm standing right here. (immortality)
Posted at: 6th June 2008 01:36 (UTC)
every soldier dies in glory

Ah, well, that's a nice bit of information to have (I haven't yet read the issue, so I didn't know). And it's a change from issue #3 where her hair actually did go all black again. So I'm going to take that as a good sign.

she has a tendency not so much to play with fire, as to douse herself in gasoline and juggle lighted matches. But that's Willow. She just wants to learn stuff so she can help people and fix things that go wrong...

That I can agree with. It's one of her character flaws, actually, the need to always go out and learn more and get better at whatever it is she puts her mind too, and then put that to good use. Speaking of all that, it actually reminds me of an essay I read in one of those Buffy Philosophical books (yes, I have two) that suggests that since Willow feels like she has no set "place" in life, or in the Scooby Gang, she feels the need to always be the best at whatever she does, as if to validate to herself that she has an identity (in other words, because she is so good at ______ she is a ______ (ie, because she is so good at academics, she is a scholar)).

Er, sorry. Sort of rambly and off topic! But, yes! That's a good bit of visual information.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 6th June 2008 13:09 (UTC)
willow-dune1

Talking about Willow in my LJ is never off topic. :-)

I like that insight into her... in an earlier discussion (it's the essay 'Pride not Ethics' in my links list in the sidebar) BGF was suggesting that because Willow as a teenager was quiet and shy and didn't have many friends, and the only things she was good at were uncool (computers, schoolwork), then she tended to get very possessive and defensive of those things. Anything that makes her special - be it magic or having a boyfriend who's in a band - is something she clings to beyond all reason.

On the other hand, I don't think that wanting to learn and get better is a character flaw; it's a virtue. Where Willow does go wrong is thinking that she can use her new knowledge in a big sweeping gesture to wipe away her problems, without stopping to ask the other people involved if they're okay with that. Ironically, the more she learns, the more tempted she is to fix things by waving her arms.

It's a tragedy in the classic sense, when the hero's own virtues become the source of her downfall.

Posted by: fix me, motherfucker! i'm standing right here. (immortality)
Posted at: 6th June 2008 14:34 (UTC)

Ah, yes, that's what it was. *was too lazy to go look through my books and find the essay*

And I didn't mean so much that her thirst for knowledge is a character flaw, just the fact that because she's like that, she just keeps pushing herself further and further, and she doesn't always consider that maybe it's not entirely necessary to know everything, as it can grow to be a burden (which is sort of what magic has become to her, in my opinion).

Where Willow does go wrong is thinking that she can use her new knowledge in a big sweeping gesture to wipe away her problems, without stopping to ask the other people involved if they're okay with that. Ironically, the more she learns, the more tempted she is to fix things by waving her arms.

And yeah, that too is a problem. :D And I think one reason she thinks this way is because before, people used to depend on her a lot -- whether it was being forced into helping someone pass a class (in Dopplegangerland), picking up where Jenny left off with magic, being the smart one with Good Ideas, etc -- I think she kind of got into this mindset where she assumed that she just knew what was the right thing to do, because no one else did, and everyone was counting on her to fix whatever was wrong. I'm not saying this is necessarily the case in reality, I just think it's what Willow thinks.

Posted by: satsux (satsux)
Posted at: 6th June 2008 03:14 (UTC)

I should note I didn't say she turned Dark Hair willow in this issue, just meant that a little anger sparked by Amy in the first arc m ade her revert.

So what if Buffy or someone that could really push real passion into her would tick her off?

We saw Buffy beaten and scratched, and unless it's a slayer, Willow's the best candidate for a beating.

Then again, Dawn is a giant who was a ball of energy. Maybe she figured she fight for her survival and stomp on her sister...

Posted by: lusciousxander (lusciousxander)
Posted at: 6th June 2008 07:55 (UTC)
Always Best Friends by mysteryof

Maybe it's just me, but I'm tired of seeing Willow always being the evil one. Give Xander a storyline for once -- God knows if he became dark!Xander, everyone would think it was "cool," because Xander can do know wrong and Willow's just a bad character.

Are you serious? Xander is the character that gets the most bashing by fans just because he didn't like Angel and Spike.

Willow is probably the most popular female character in the verse.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 6th June 2008 13:16 (UTC)

Oh, Willow has her critics and Xander has his passionate defenders. It all depends on which circles you move in. :-)

There's also the school of thought that says Xander never had a decent plotline or a strong character arc after Season 3. You know, the marriage storyline in Season 6 was just a plot device to get Buffy isolated an stir up trouble between her and Spike. Xander saving the world in 'Grave' was all about Willow. Xander being much more confident and mature in Season 7 was just so the writers wouldn't have to create any episodes about his internal personality conflicts. The only reason he had his eye poked out was because it would upset the other characters. And so on...

Posted by: fix me, motherfucker! i'm standing right here. (immortality)
Posted at: 6th June 2008 14:42 (UTC)

And, see, that's exactly why I feel Xander hasn't had a good character arc since S3. And my God, I hated the whole marriage storyline -- I thought it was one of the worse plots ever . . . Although, it could just be because I really did want him to get married, and I think he deserved it, and they threw in some lame one-episode twist to make him back out of it. And it wasn't really foreshadowed in OMWF . . . That was more focused on the fact that there were traits about one another that they didn't like, not that Xander was going to turn into his dad.

Posted by: skipp_of_ark (skipp_of_ark)
Posted at: 6th June 2008 17:04 (UTC)

You know, the marriage storyline in Season 6 was just a plot device to get Buffy isolated an stir up trouble between her and Spike.

Nah, it was just a plot device to shove Xander (and Anya) into the background while the writers focused on Buffy, Spike, and Willow, up until the writers remembered they had to set up a wedding episode. Funny how Xander and Anya's screentime increased (okay, Xander's, mostly) once they weren't getting married in season 6.

Xander saving the world in 'Grave' was all about Willow.

Well, yeah. That was the conclusion to Willow's arc. It had jack shit to do with any nonexistent Xander plot that you pulled out of your arse about Xander constantly running away from being an adult ever since Restless (a radical reinterpretation of what Xander's dream was actually about, by the way -- it was about everything Xander did or tried to move forward always leading him nowhere). And please don't tell me Xander's plot in season six was just really subtle -- Season Six ME writers were incapable of subtle. They were as subtle as a sledgehammer to the nuts. More importantly, Xander fans are fucking sick of ME trying to shove Xander into the background and claiming that they're just being subtle. Bugger subtle, in your country's parlance -- we want the damn spotlight. We want the damn A- or B-plot over several episodes. That's what constitutes a damn plotline on this show. Let Willow be the buttmonkey; it's overdue.

The only reason he had his eye poked out was because it would upset the other characters.

And ME have pretty much admitted that this is true. Before Joss got talked out of it, the original plan was that Caleb was going to kill Xander. Otherwise, the rest of the season was going to happen pretty much as it did, except Xander would be dead and the First would take his form. Which might have given Nicholas Brendon something actually interesting to do but still wouldn't have told us anything about Xander. As it was, Xander getting his eye poked out was all about "upsetting other characters" so the "mutiny" could be further fueled in Empty Places. It certainly didn't end up telling us anything new about Xander himself, did it?

Posted by: fix me, motherfucker! i'm standing right here. (immortality)
Posted at: 6th June 2008 14:36 (UTC)

Er, sorry, it must just be the circles I move in, as stormwreath said. But definitely, in my experience, Willow is the one who's character is always being questioned and criticized, and Xander as seen as the good, un-wavering, cool character.

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