Some of you may remember that there used to be a monthly comic called "Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 8". That was almost a quarter of a year ago. But now, they've actually printed another issue! \o/ So was it worth waiting for?
I have to say, I had to read the rest of the 'Time Of Your Life' arc through again, to remind myself what had happened, before writing this review.
Knowing how the story ends, it's quite powerful to see how Willow has carefully manipulated everyone - including her own past self, Saga Vasuki, Buffy, the Fray sisters and Harth - to reach her desired goal. Which is her own death at Buffy's hands. Why did she do it? I've got my theories, which I'll go into at the end. For the moment, let's just say that her monologue at the start is very touching. Visually, this is Dark Willow, and by her own admission she's no longer quite human... but she's not evil, just deeply sad and lonely and withdrawn. Yet there's still a faint memory in there of the old Willow, who was nerdy and naively romantic and loved her schoolwork.
I enjoyed the little homage to Sellars and Yeatman and the most memorable history book ever written. :-)
As for Buffy's reaction to seeing her best friend again, it's classic BtVS dialogue. She starts out with "oh my God!" as if she's utterly horrified... then immediately undercuts it in classic Jossian fashion, scolding Willow for going dark as if she were an eight-year old. Then she remembers that the last time Willow went evil it was because of Tara's death, and she's immediately full of concern about Kennedy. Willow's reply, and the bitter loneliness it conveys in a few simple words, is horrifying.
Then we get the face-off with Harth, and the reveal that Willow has been manipulating everyone by lying to them, in order to engineer the confrontation. "Yes, well, I'm dark that way." And meanwhile, the demon monkey Gates is secretly freeing Buffy. Why? One theory is that he just likes Slayers - any Slayer - and doesn't want Buffy to be tied up. The other is that it's all part of Willow's plan, and she asked him to free Buffy at the crucial moment in order to provoke a fight between her and Mel.
Willow's line here is crucial to the story, although at first it's a misdirect. "The most important thing about death isn't who dies... it's who kills them." Both Buffy and Mel assume at first that she means she wants them to fight each other, for her amusement. They're wrong.
Harth's "solution" to the problem is just classic vampire logic. Kill them all and don't bother sorting them out. And then comes the big reveal from the cliffhanger last issue. Turns out Gunther didn't die after all... (yay!) and now he's back, and he's pissed. And he's got a squadron of grav tanks, apparently. :-) The implication is that Willow orchestrated all of this... she's certainly not surprised when Gunther and his men turn up. Was Harth now a liability, or did Willow plan to have him and his army destroyed all along when she had no further need of him?
We don't actually see Harth die, mind you - he's diving for cover in his last frame - so I'm sure he'll be available as a villain in future 'Fray' comics. And I loved Gunther's substitution of "my surf" instead of "my turf."
We see a little more of Buffy's worrying slide into solipsism (as featured in previous issues of this arc). She still believes she's doing the right thing, saving the world, but she cares less and less about other people while she does it. "I don't care about your world. I have to save mine." And she clearly resented being referred to as "Puffy" in the last issue. :-)
As Buffy makes her dramatic exit, Willow tells her she's "not done here." (Is Buffy breaking through a wall - my first assumption - or has Willow used magic on her to make her fall?) Incidentally, because the last speech bubble has no "tail" to it, I'm guessing that symbolises that Willow is speaking telepathically to Buffy. The story now cuts away to Xander and Dawn and when we next see Buffy she's alone again and on the roof. I assume that in the intervening time, Willow told Buffy where the temporal rift would open again and what she would have to do there - that's the only way to make sense of their conversation during their final meeting.
So - back to Scotland, which apparently now resembles something from a Pixar movie, or maybe Monty Python with
Xander is doing what he does best: making funny comments in the face of certain death, and also teasing Dawn, who gives as good as she gets. I liked his reference to the Kübler-Ross Five Stages of Grief, although he missed out "depression" and got "denial" and "anger" the wrong way round. (It's worth remembering that Xander himself is currently in mourning.)
Incidentally, he's holding a tiny dagger while Dawn holds a huge two-handed sword that must be about six feet long. Possible phallic symbolism aside, I'm guessing that to be able to even lift that thing Dawn must now be, um, as strong as a horse.
Rowena redeems herself for her emotional meltdown a couple of issues ago, and leads her Slayers to the rescue. Out of the original four newbie Slayers introduced in 8.01, Satsu has already established herself pretty firmly as a major player, Renee did too until she died, and Leah is mostly notable for her sarcastic comments and big hair. Now Rowena has done something important and heroic, and I'm thinking it's Leah's turn to step up. Mind you, Leah was wounded and having to be carried two issues ago, and now she's shown (in long shot) right in the thick of this battle, so she's not doing too badly. Slayer rapid healing powers for the win, evidently.
And we're back to Buffy - presumably, as I said, having just had an interesting conversation with Willow. She's also apparently managed to lose her fear of heights thanks to all the jumping around on flying cars she's been doing in the past few days. I liked the little touch that she's using the Scythe to hack out hand- and foot-holds in the wall of the building so she can climb up it. (And, memo for future fic-writers: the Scythe can clearly cut holes in solid brickwork even when Buffy is swinging it one-handed over her head while clinging precariously to the side of a building hundreds of feet above the ground.)
Then we get the big face-off. Slayer versus Slayer, each fighting for the fate of her world. It's a huge, epic fight, easily as dramatic as Buffy versus Faith in 'Graduation Day 1'. Melaka is convinced that if Buffy returns to her own time, her foreknowledge will change the past and so Mel will never have existed. Buffy wants to return home so she can save her own world and her finest creation, the Slayer Army.
And Willow watches them fight. Note that she's biting her bottom lip as she says "So close..." - which is exactly what she was doing as Kennedy brought her to orgasm so she could visit Saga Vasuki in the previous issue. I think, though, that this version of Willow hasn't been capable of anything so uncontrolled and wild and connected to another person as making love for a long, long time.
Though I do wonder if Willow is actually reaching out through time and contacting Saga Vasuki as she says "So close..."? So she can give her the vision of New York in flames and the Scythe, which SV will then give to Willow's on past self and start this whole thing rolling...
I liked the contrasting inner dialogues of Buffy and Melaka as they fight. Interesting that Mel is apparently stronger than Buffy - and Mel refers to Buffy as "tiny, whiney". The artist hasn't been consistent about drawing them to scale with each other (I checked) but I'm assuming this is supposed to mean that Mel is taller and stronger than Buffy. She's also more determined, which of course in the Buffyverse always makes you a better fighter.
Buffy, on the other hand, has apparently "dreamed every battle a Slayer's ever fought". That's been hinted at before in the series, more so in the movie (and more to the point, the comics adaptation of it which Joss accepts as canon, unlike the movie itself) and the comics and even on 'Angel' (with Dana in 'Damage') rather than on the 'Buffy' TV show itself. Now, though, it's stated in black and white.
Both Slayers get to make some cool moves in the fight. Buffy, as ever, makes clever use of the environment by using her Scythe to slice open the water pipe and knock Mel off the roof. Mel, in turn, shows off her superior athletic skills by hooking her own Scythe into the car and using her momentum to swing back up onto the roof.
Mount Walmore = Mount Rushmore, now owned and re-branded by Wal-mart??
And then the little interlude with Twilight and his posse which has apparently caused much kerfuffle. Looks like Amy and Warren's plan was much less successful than they'd hoped, but since Twilight didn't expect much of it anyway he's not bothered. I can't be sure from just reading the dialogue without hearing the tone of voice, but I think their argument here is an actual, serious fight rather than a playful pretend-squabble like the one Willow and Kennedy were having in the earlier issue (with all that "Didn't miss you." "Who are you again?" interchange). Does Amy actually think of Warren as her love-slave, then? Ew.
One criticism of the Warren/Amy relationship I've heard occasionally is that "he's a misogynist, so why does he have a girlfriend?" Here we see some of his misogyny surfacing again ("self-actualizing womyn-jargon", "a robot you with no mouth"); but we have to remember that while he has little respect for women on the whole, Warren still enjoys their company. And he has other reasons to respect Amy despite her femaleness, like the fact that she saved his life (and can end it again with five little words.) As for what Amy herself gets out of it... who knows? She's clearly stark raving mad, but then that was obvious from the start of the season.
Oh yeah, we get the other big reveal of the issue: Buffy's secret meeting in New York was with Riley, and Riley is on Twilight's side. Ooooh. I'd act surprised, but there have been so many people speculating that he was Twilight for so long that the only big surprise here is that actually, he isn't Twilight himself but just his ally. (Although I actually wasn't one of the people saying Twilight was Riley, incidentally, only because it seemed too much like pandering to the Rileyphobes).
Of course, there are a lot of unanswered questions here all the same.
I'm guessing Buffy got in touch with Riley after the encounter with General Voll, to ask him if he knew anything about this secret demon-fighting organisation within the US army. Riley, evidently, claimed he did and that he could feed Buffy information on them. In fact, he's a double-agent and keeping Twilight informed. This certainly helps to explain how Twilight knows so much about Buffy's personality and even her fighting style.
What's Riley's motivation? We don't know. I'm guessing it could be any one of:
1) Embittered by Sam's death at the hands of a demon, he's grown to hate the entire world of magic and the supernatural. Twilight's promise to end it all would fall on fertile soil. Twilight may even have promised Riley that he won't kill Buffy, just remove her Slayer powers... and I'm sure a deep, dark part of Riley would welcome that.
2) Somehow, Twilight has brainwashed Riley. It wouldn't be the first time someone did that to him - and we don't know how Twilight has otherwise managed to amass such a huge and disparate powerbase.
3) Riley isn't a double agent - he's a triple agent. His dialogue sounded a bit "off" to me here; more like what one of the other Initiative soldiers like Forrest or Graham would have said about Buffy rather than his own words. Maybe he's playing a role? (Or maybe Joss has just forgotten how to do his voice...)
Still, I'm quite sure this isn't the last we'll hear of this plotline.
Back to the main plot. Kennedy only gets two brief appearances in this issue and both of them are adorable. I loved her immediate connection between blindfolding Willow and a knife-thrower's act.Willow, meanwhile, has clearly decided to heed Saga Vasuki's warning about not looking through the portal. She's also apparently still true enough to her Jewish heritage to celebrate Hannukah even though she's now a Wiccan.
And the final fight. One thing I'm still not clear on is how exactly Buffy managed to shatter Melaka's Scythe with her bare fist. My best guess is that it had something to do with the portal opening and the two timelines merging. While two possible worlds existed together, there could also be two Scythes; but with the time portal open, there could be only one. (Or possibly, the reference I'm looking for here is "Saruman, your Scythe is broken.")
Then Willow appears and tells Buffy that the only way she will get through the portal is through her. In other words, Buffy has to kill Willow. And Buffy knows that Willow has engineered this whole thing to lead up to this. Why? She doesn't explain.
"The most important thing about death isn't who dies... it's who kills them."
Buffy has to kill her best friend with her own hands. That's going to stay with her forever. I think Willow has been waiting for her death for almost two centuries now, and she accepts it. It's not her dying that's important; what's important is that it's Buffy who kills her.
And Buffy, who once stabbed Angel through the heart, now does the same thing to Willow. We see the first tear starting to form in her eye, as the veins fade away from Willow's face and her eyes turn hazel again for a moment before she dies. There's also a massive discharge of energy... what does it do? My suspicion is that this is the cause of the temporal disturbance that caused the whole problem in the first place... 21st century Willow persuaded Buffy to come to New York to investigate, unknowingly, her own death there in 200 years' time.
Incidentally, Willow says "20th century" in her speech to Buffy here. Either this is a mistake by the writer, or it's a sign that after two hundred years of solitude Willow has lost track of the years... or it's a subtle clue that this version of Willow actually belongs to a different timeline in which Sunnydale blew up in 1999 instead of 2003...
And we have two happy endings. Buffy, in floods of tears after killing Willow, clings desperately to the living younger version of her best friend. And Kennedy gets her second cute line of the episode as she warns them not to get any ideas. :-) (I note that the arc ended with Willow and Kennedy still together, despite earlier speculation that they would quarrel over Saga Vasuki and split up. Still, it may yet happen.)
Meanwhile, Mel and Erin both still exist... although presumably Mel's Scythe is now gone. (Unless it re-forms in their dimension once Buffy has gone, or they repair it somehow). For them, it's a happy ending - or at least they're back to normal. Notice how Erin's comment, the last line of the arc, is "Means it's a good day" - a deliberate mirror of the first line of the arc (and the Fray comic itself before that), which was "Bad day. Started out bad, stayed that way."
I'm guessing - especially from the fade-to white which then fades back into colour - that the Frayverse is now a parallel dimension rather than the actual future of the Buffyverse. But I'm not holding my breath for that to be clarified in writing anywhere. :-)
So what was Willow's plan?
From what I can see, the timeline is roughly like this:
- All magic and demons are banished from the world. Willow survives, although her power is seriously limited. (Or possibly, she puts all her power into staying alive).
- Willow lives on for 200 years, seeing the deaths of everyone she loves. She becomes known as the "madwoman", and ceases to be fully human.
- Willow allies with Harth, the vampire leader. She recruits his help to open the time portal and bring Buffy through to the future.
- She hires a demon to attack Melaka and so make sure she's at the right place at the right time when the portal opens.
- The portal opens; Buffy and the demon exchange places in time. Buffy and Melaka confront each other.
- Willow sends a vision back through time to Saga Vasuki, showing New York in flames with the Scythe hovering in front of it. She asks SV to pass this vision on to her past self, but not tell her where it comes from. She also asks SV to warn her past self not to look into the future.
- Buffy suffers future shock, and is traumatised by seeing how badly the future turns out - vampires running rampant, only one lone Slayer again, crime and poverty everywhere.
- (Back in 21st century New York) Willow interrogates the demon, talks to Saga Vasuki, and works out how to bring Buffy back through the portal.
- Having no further use for Harth, Willow engineers a conflict between him and Gunther and wipes out the vampire army.
- Meanwhile, Willow convinces Mel that she has to fight Buffy or Buffy will change the past and wipe her out of existence.
- The two Slayers fight, and Buffy wins and breaks Melaka's Scythe.
- Willow now confronts Buffy herself, and forces Buffy to kill her with the Scythe.
- Buffy, helped by past-Willow, returns to the 21st century, carrying with her the trauma of having just killed her best friend.
Why did Willow do it? It's possible we'll never know, that this will be a plot-element left hanging. Or it might be that this is the overriding driving force of the entire second half of the season.
What I think, though, is this:
In 'Anywhere But Here', Buffy and Willow learned that Twilight's plan is to end all magic and all demons... which would also put an end to Willow's power. She didn't look particularly happy at that idea, but their demonic informant implied that it was Buffy's life goal. That immediately sets up a possible conflict between the two of them.
My speculation is that Buffy will eventually decide to let Twilight win. She comes to agree with his aims, that ending the supernatural will be a good thing for the world. Willow disagrees, and they end up on opposite sides in the war. Willow's side loses, and the Buffy-Twilight Alliance wins.
When the magic ends, Willow somehow manages to survive and retain some of her power. She has a long-term plan to reverse everything, to change the past so it never happened that way.
So, she engineers things to bring Buffy to the future. She confronts Buffy with just how horrible the world will be after two centuries with no Slayer, if the supernatural does return eventually anyway. (And maybe it was Willow that did that, too? The original 'Fray' comic never said how the demons managed to return.) She sets Buffy and Melaka to fighting, to emphasise the lesson.
And finally, she ensures that Buffy will have to live with the memory of killing Willow with her own two hands.
What will Buffy be like when she returns to the 21st century? We've already seen part of it; she's clinging to Willow, tearfully babbling about how much she loves her. This Buffy will definitely think twice now before she lets herself get estranged from Willow in the future. And she's seen how bad a future without magic and Slayers would be... so she'll definitely not be inclined to listen to Twilight's plan to banish all the demons.
Buffy will now fight Twilight to her last breath alongside Willow, rather than going over to his point of view and opposing her former-best-friend. The world will stay supernatural, Fray is now an alternate universe, and Future!Willow has successfully changed history and, by her death, deleted her entire timeline from existence.
I wonder if Buffy will explain to Willow now what she had to do?