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.