This month's theme, boys and girls, is "betrayal." Betrayal of your friends, betrayal of your enemies, betrayal of your principles. Possibly even betrayal by the closest, the most unexpected, although the jury's still out on that one. We've also got the clearest statement yet that Buffy's character development in Season 8 is not something that we're supposed to accept without question.
Also, I think that I'm getting the feel for Joss's style of comic-writing now. All the issues he's written himself, rather than hand over to a guest writer, have been characterised by one thing: half a dozen or more plot arcs all going on simultaneously, and often completely unconnected. Well, except by overall theme, or dramatic irony, or the classic Jossian device of the final dialogue of one scene overlapping into the next scene, or vice-versa. It's an effective but risky strategy, especially for an ensemble universe as packed with people as this one is.
It means that every character gets at least a small scene in each comic, which is much better than them simply being forgotten for months at a time. It also helps build the idea that this is a real, ongoing world; everything doesn't just revolve around the hero, there are other things going on as well at the same time. On the other hand, fans of the characters only given bit-parts in a particular issue are likely to complain of being short-changed – even if the alternative was for their preferred character to not appear at all.
It also encourages both the tendency and the demand for gratuitous fan-service: after all, if Joss is happy to throw in a page of Characters A and B interacting, even though the main storyline is about Characters C and D, it just leads to questions about why he hasn't also devoted a page to characters E, F, G, H, I and J. And a page showing that character B isn't sure if character S is still alive or not. And can't there be a page where character X is shown mourning for character A who died two years earlier? And so on and so on, until there's no room for actual new plot in between all the references to what happened in previous seasons of the show...
So, taking my own advice, let's talk about episode 8.18.
Then we've got the B-plot, which is Willow and Kennedy in the present day trying to get Buffy back. Plus the dramatic irony of Willow being unaware that in the future, she's Buffy's worst enemy.
And finally the Second Unit stuff, which is Xander and Dawn. I'd say this was totally unrelated to the rest of the issue, except there's a clear theme connecting them. In the future, Buffy sees everything she tried to build has turned to dust. In Xander and Dawn's arc, this isn't just metaphorical: the castle that they made into their home is literally now a big pile of rubble. Is this how it began? Is this the start of the disaster that led to Buffy's world-changing army of Slayers being forgotten by history?
Or is it just a case of a different leg of the Trousers of Time? The path not travelled? I suppose we'll find out next month. (Or possibly, Joss being Evil, we'll find out in a couple of years' time at the end of the arc...)
It was affecting seeing Buffy so emotional when she realises how it ends - and "spoiler alert" is a great phrase for her to use. I've seen a few people commenting on this scene that it's suggesting that Buffy's Slayer spell was a bad idea. I really don't get that at all (and suspect wishful thinking by people who think Buffy and Willow empowering all the Potentials in 'Chosen' was a bad thing, and are hoping that the storyline will eventually prove them right). It's clear that Buffy thinks it was a wonderful idea - "to beat back the darkness. To make the world a better place" - and she's crying because it's clear it was undone somehow. There's only one Slayer again, and the world is obviously not a better place.
Violence is still Slayer comfort food, even in the future. Nice to see some things don't change. Though I notice that we don't really dwell on what it must feel like for Melaka to finally meet another Slayer after being alone all her life... is she grateful? Fascinated? Jealous that Buffy got the full package, including the visions and intuition? I can certainly see that last bit feeding into the later plot developments, though it's not referenced specifically...
Willow and Kennedy are being cute. Incidentally, judging by the small and bland nature of it, I'm guessing that's a hotel bedroom rather than, say, Kennedy's own apartment. The decor doesn't really match what we saw in 'Anywhere But Here'. Also, I learned this week (from one of the articles Petzi posted) that the swearword "frak" was in fact invented in the original 'Battlestar Galactica' series, although popularised by the new version of it.
Anybody wanting to see the differences in personality and speech patterns between Willow and Kennedy has only to read the dialogue here:
"Ken-doll, do you trust me and know that I love you and I'm not a crazy person and what we do is for the greater good cross your heart no backsies?"
"Duh. What do we gotta do?"
Pitch-perfect character voices. Who wrote this?
And yes, 'Ken-doll' is slightly cringy and cutesy, which is why it's perfect for Willow. I just hope, as I said when the preview of this came out a couple of weeks ago, that Kennedy's corresponding pet name for Willow is not 'Barbie-doll'... Kennedy resting her head on Willow's shoulder is also a trademark action of hers from Season 7.
Minor observation: the artist here is really emphasising the fact that Kennedy's skin colour is significantly darker than Willow's. A mixed-race relationship! Shock, horror! I remember once, when I wrote a post mentioning that Iyari Limón is a Latina, someone commented with the criticism that she didn't act like one on the show, or her character wasn't played that way, or something. Which is an interesting view of race; it doesn't matter what your physical ethnicity is, you only count as being of that race if you act according to the right stereotypes. Hmm. Anyway, I wonder if there's any significance in the fact that the Key Three's love interests this season - Satsu, Renee and Kennedy - have all been non-white? Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times...
Brief Xander and Dawn interlude time. Some people have suggested that we're being pushed gently into accepting that these two will hook up, given all the sexual innuendo between them. While I'm not rejecting the idea I'm not convinced either: seems to me that Xander still gets freaked out whenever anything sexual gets mentioned. Dawn, on the other hand, is far more casual about it, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if her "ridden hard and put away wet" comment was said deliberately with intent to shock. She's both grown up a lot, and still a teenager. In fact, I think Dawn comes across very well in this little vignette.
Though I notice that while she's wearing a t-shirt to cover up her human torso, her naked bottom is clearly visible in one picture. Perhaps she assumes that because it now has a tail coming out of it, it doesn't matter. Let's hope Xander isn't a Furry...
The bit with the tree spirits was a perfect 'Buffy' moment. I laughed. There was lots of debate in the preview as to whether the fiery ents were "too fairytale" and didn't fit the Buffyverse aesthetic... so it was wonderful to see Dawn making fun of them for exactly that reason. Like I said, she's definitely come of age, and developed the classic Scooby attitude to weird, scary monsters: refusal to be impressed, irreverent questions and mockery. I'm guessing that next episode will see Xander and Dawn teaming up with the tree people to fight the evil green cobras. (And try taking that sentence out of context...)
The confrontation between Harth and Gunther was a nice little "two powerful evil dudes try to see who has the biggest dick" moment. Although not literally, because that would be an entirely different genre of fiction.
Apparently Gunther has rigged his chamber with "sunlight generators", whatever they are - presumably ultraviolet lights? I wonder if that will actually work in the Buffyverse? Alternatively, it could be something mystical using techno-magic to store actual sunlight in capacitors somehow. And the ending was suitably creepy, not to mention clever - is this the end for Gunther? Or does Harth just want to scare him? Gunther's security barrier has betrayed him - and if Harth is honest about he and Gunther being "of a kind", then he's betrayed him too. Although betrayal comes naturally for vampires.
Buffy's driving ability hasn't improved in 200 years, and just as predicted, Mel is regretting letting her drive. The repetition of Snyder's line from 'Band Candy' was amusing, Buffy's reaction to it even funnier... especially if we take it that she's assuming the "Summers" part of the saying has also entered popular culture...
I'm also trying to remember if the Grand Theft Auto computer game series includes any flying cars. Deliberately flying, that is, not hurtling off ramps or unfinished bridges or the sides of buildings. There's a jetpack in one of the games, and helicopters of course, but not flying cars, I think. Back on topic, is it significant that we're reminded here that like Buffy, Melaka is a thief? And, in fact, a more experienced, professional thief?
Because it really points out the big conflict between them next, when Mel wants to jump in and help the innocent victims, and Buffy wants to stand back and follow the vampires back to their base afterwards.
This is, to be honest, rather shocking. I'm not going to say it's out of character for Buffy because we've seen, step by step, how she got to this point. The world-weariness and cynicism that set in by Season 5. How in Season 7 she deliberately hardened herself to the idea that she might have to order other people to their deaths. How she admitted to Giles in 'Lies My Parents Told Me' that put into a situation like 'The Gift' again, she'd let her sister die. And in Season 8, we've seen her relying on crime to fund her organisation, and being ready to kill another Slayer out of hand, and isolating herself from the world in a remote Scottish castle where the only other people she ever meets are Slayers, witches, giants or Xander.
But. If 18-year old Buffy had been sitting in the car next to her future self instead of Melaka, I think she'd be just as horrified at her own decision. Letting people die so you can prevent more deaths later might be 'big picture', but it's still letting innocent victims get killed. Melaka refuses to accept Buffy's logic; she's going to try and save them anyway. And - just like earlier Buffy would have - she manages to get the best of both worlds. She saves the people... and one vampire manages to escape in the van and lead them back to its hideout anyway. I think that's pretty crucial, because it's the author telling us that Buffy screwed up here. She made the wrong call.
Does she recognise that herself? I think her "Dammit, Fray" can be read both ways; is she angry at herself because she recognises the truth, or is it just the surface meaning, that she's scared about being left at the wheel of the flying car?
Mind you, it's not a simple black and white picture. Buffy isn't entirely wrong, because the truth is that saving that small group of people would lead to even more deaths later, if they fail to get the clue on where Harth's base is. Melaka is fighting a battle, the way Buffy used to do; but Buffy is now trying to wage a war. You know, like the Watchers' Council used to do... Buffy is turning into them.
Or possibly, she's becoming Wesley, except with less stubble - on her face, at least - and fewer guns. And Wesley was dark - but can you say he was wrong? Can ends ever justify means?
On a lighter note, I assume the vampires are all mummy-wrapped in bandages to protect them from sunlight.
I wonder if the similarity between Willow talking about Buffy here and Angelus talking about her in Season 2 is a deliberate echo? It seems that future!Willow does want to kill Buffy, although since we're not given a reason as yet it's still up in the air as to whether this is really her plan, and what the twist will be.
Speaking of twists, now we find out how Willow has been contacting Saga Vasuki, and why she had a problem talking to Kennedy about it... and to be honest, I think it reflects more creditably on her than I'd expected. See, I'd assumed that SV expected sex with Willow as a condition of talking to her, or something like that... and to be fair, their interaction here does seem very intimate, at least on the serpent goddess's side of things, so it's at least possible something like that has happened in the past.
But instead, it seems that Willow needs to be actually in the throes of orgasm to travel into SV's dimension. Something that Saga Vasuki appears to find rather amusing, given her little joking references to it ("Do come again"). And also, given Kennedy's huge grin in the final panel, it's clear she doesn't have any problem with the idea that helping Willow use magic involves giving her lots of orgasms. (Or one orgasm lasting one minute twenty seconds, which is how long it took me to read out loud the dialogue in that scene...) So why is Willow feeling awkward and guilty about this?
Well firstly, because she's Willow. It's kind of her default mode. But also, I think, because she thinks she's being selfish; instead of enjoying making love with her girlfriend for the connection and companionship and shared pleasure, she's using it to power her magic. She's literally thinking about somebody else at the moment she comes. In her mind, she's using Kennedy, and she's ashamed of that.
This revelation also casts an interesting sidelight on the last page of 'Wolves At The Gate', incidentally...
I rather like the characterisation of Saga Vasuki here... she's obviously a cryptic and powerful unearthly being, but she also gets sulky, she pouts, and she makes sly jokes about orgasms. And Willow - despite being all embarrassed about her nakedness - is clearly not afraid of her. ("You lied to me.") Lots of stuff to comment on crammed into these few pages. Willow says "I don't have that kind of power" and SV replies, not with either direct agreement or contradiction, but a rhetorical question. Of course, we readers have come to the conclusion that it's Willow herself from the future casting the time portal spell, so it's all dramatic irony. Even more so when Willow says that "only someone on the deep dark" would meddle with those forces.
And let's all pause a moment as we witness Season 8 Willow admitting that some magical forces are too dangerous and powerful for her to mess about with. See? She's learned from experience after all. :-) Or at least she has here; who knows what her future self has been up to...
Who is the person SV trusted, who told her about the time portal? Was it future!Willow herself? And why doesn't she want Willow to look into the future when she opens the portal? The obvious answer is that she doesn't want Willow to see what will happen to her later, because if she knew she might take action to change the future course of events. That, in turn, implies that SV wants this to happen - the end of the multiple Slayers, the banishment of magic and demons. It's another betrayal. But on the other hand, surely Buffy will tell her everything anyway when she gets back, so why try to hide it? Maybe there are other things going on here instead...
Incidentally, I did like the call-back to 'Who Are You?' in Season 4, where Willow also apparently needed to be having an orgasm in order to send her spirit into the Nether Realms. Continuity! Mind you, I kind of guess she and Kennedy weren't just sitting crosslegged and holding hands this time around. Though I could be wrong.
And back to the future, where 200-year old Willow confronts Melaka. The look of sadness on her face where she admits she hasn't been quite human for "some time now" was chilling. And the moment where she says that the most important men in Buffy's life are "lurks" was equally intriguing. Is she talking about seasons 1-3/6-7, or after season 8? :-) I also got a definite Adam vibe from some parts of her speech: the remote, analytical observation of other lifeforms ("Your brother is interesting. Ambitious."). So what is it that Willow showed Melaka, to make her turn against Buffy in the final act? In fact, to make her believe that betraying Buffy would "save the world"? I suppose we'll have to wait and see...
Something else to speculate on. Why would veiny, black-eyed 200-year old Willow say that the little green flame was "about as much magic as I can muster"? Assuming she's telling the truth, it could be because all her power is being used to sustain her unnaturally extended lifespan. Or to power the time-portal. Or maybe she's so old that her power has faded. Or perhaps the ritual that banished the demons and magic from the world has affected her too, so now even the Most Powerful Witch in the Western Hemisphere is barely capable of conjuring a simple vision.
Back to Buffy - and notice that she's getting positively blasé (or should that be blasée?) about heights now, by the way she drops down the face of the building from one projection to another. Even though she did manage to crash the car...
I was a bit confused by the page break here, assuming that the scene over the page where Erin confronts Buffy happened immediately after the "Oh, futuristic snap!" line. In fact, it seems that Buffy investigated a little, then made her way back to Melaka's home, and quite some time elapsed.
"Stand down and offer submission" is the same line Erin used in the 'Fray' comic when arresting her sister; Buffy's reaction to it here is priceless. I also liked her sudden realisation that if Erin is Mel's sister, then Harth is her brother too.
A lot of people commented on how they thought Erin actually was Buffy in #17, and it's interesting that here the two women have been given identical hairstyles. They also share a moment of bonding over the problems caused by little sisters - though I thought Dawn was 6 years younger than Buffy, not 5. In yet another continuity-porn moment, Buffy references 'What's My Line' and the suggestion there that she take up a career in law enforcement... and it's very much in character here for her to say the outfits were a big factor in her decision. :-)
Erin's final question was a curious one. Shorn of the Buffyesque distractions, it was "You're a Slayer? Why?"
Why is Buffy doing this? After all, she doesn't have to, not anymore. Plenty of people (in her time, anyway) who could take up the mantle. She believes she's making the world a better place; but is she also doing it out of ego, because she wants a place in the history books? Food for thought.
And in the final panel, Melaka knocks her unconscious with a ray gun - and it turns out Erin was in on the plot. Yet another betrayal, and one that has Willow's fingerprints all over it. Looks like whatever she said to Mel was convincing. Erin clearly doesn't think Buffy seemed like the type, but she's willing to trust her sister.
The Slayer's job is to prevent the apocalypse and save the world. Buffy is in Fray's world now, and Fray is the Slayer. She's acting like the Slayer, in fact, when Buffy is not. Does that make Buffy the Big Bad? This is what I think Willow showed Melaka: that unless stopped, Buffy will destroy the world... Fray's world. She'll make it as if it never existed, along with everybody in it.
And Melaka Fray has sworn to protect her world from anything that threatens it...