Plus, this was an Andrew-centric episode. I'm starting to dislike him less than I did when he was on the TV show, but I have to admit my pulse doesn't race and my breath catch in my throat when I hear the news "this issue of the comic will be all about Andrew Wells!" (Though as I said to shapinglight, I'm not knocking Tom Lenk particularly. It must be one of the most thankless tasks in acting, to play a character who's supposed to be aggravating. The better you do your job, the more the audience will hate you. And Tom did his job really well...)
Anyway, on with the review.
Andrew's opening voice-over about how the Slayers are one big happy family appears to be pretty typical of him. He's repeating the same party line that others, such as Xander, have offered in previous issues. We've learned already that Buffy herself feels somewhat excluded from this sense of community. In 'Harmonic Divergence', we saw Soledad being repelled by it, seeing it as a hostile force. As for Andrew himself, we will learn in this issue that his own feelings are far more conflicted than this opening scene would suggest. He's trying to convince himself that he's also a part of this happy family... while believing in his heart that he doesn't deserve to be, and he's only there on sufferance.
His remark "I like your top" shouted as he dashes past the two girls is a classic "I've learned how to interact socially with women from a website!" kind of line. I'm not sure if the expression on the Slayer in green's face is meant to be contempt or fond exasperation, though. His dramatic entrance is pretty amusing too, as is Buffy's reaction to it. Interesting that both Xander and Willow try to censor or minimise Buffy's initial harsh comment.
The makeshift command centre is quite a come-down for them after the castle. They've apparently even had to scrounge a dot matrix printer from somewhere, judging by what Xander's holding. The bag on the worktop appears to say "DONTS'... which is either the name of a shop, an abbreviation of 'doughnuts', or proof that they're so wealthy from plundering banks that they fly in their doughnuts from the US instead of buying them in Scotland. Or a lack of britpicking by the artist.
Also, Willow is wearing a necklace that says "Willow" on it. Which is cute, although it does lay Georges Jeanty open to snarky comments wishing that all the other characters in the comics would wear nametags too. *g* (For the record, I think this is a very good likeness of Alyson/Willow. One thing Jeanty is very good at is subtle expressions.) Nice to see Buffy wearing a cross around her neck, too; that's a callback to earlier seasons.
On a more serious art-related note, there are a couple of continuity errors in this scene. On page 2, Buffy's shirt has a plain round collar, and she's sitting on the left-hand side of the picture with Willow on the right. In the second frame on page 3, we view the scene from the opposite perspective, so Buffy should now be on the right... but she's not, she's still on the left. Also, she's now wearing a pink shirt with a collar instead of a pink cardigan with a pinkish-white t-shirt under it. Then in the 5th and 6th panels, her clothes have changed again: now the pink cardigan has returned, but her shirt has a seam down the front and a v-shaped cut-out at the neck. Oops.
We're being told again that Harmony's reality TV show is causing huge problems for the Slayer organisation. I know a lot of people have had trouble swallowing that idea; but one thing both 'Swell' and this issue do show is that it isn't all just down to Harmony. Other people, such as Santorio in the last issue and Simone in this one, are taking advantage of the current public infatuation with vampires to forward their own agenda, and contribute to the growing chaos.
We get this issue's first comparison between Buffy and Simone when Buffy mentions, without any apparent sense of irony, that the rogue Slayer has been robbing banks and raiding military bases... and also Hot Topic shops. (Hot Topic sell music-related merchandise, and in the real world - as opposed to the Buffyverse - they're an exclusively North American chain with no retail presence in Italy or Europe as a whole at all. Maybe Simone's gang stole one of Buffy's private jets? *g*) To make the parallel between Buffy and Simone even more pointed, Andrew points out that she has also been "kicking people out of their homes", just like Buffy did in 'Touched'.
Did anyone else get the impression that Buffy thought Xander was invading her personal bubble by grabbing her arm like that? She seems rather uncomfortable, and it also seems a bit more intimate than Xander would normally get with her. Hmm. The "Andrew is a geek and Buffy's reaction to this is not what you'd expect" joke takes a while to set up, but it's pretty funny. Notice also that Buffy is being quite sympathetic and understanding all through this episode.
Other reviewers of this issue have dwelt on how many of Andrew's references they were able to get themselves and how many went over their heads, so I'll naturally do the same. And since I'm an insane completist, I'll also research answers to the other questions...
1) The pictures showing a plane, a train and an automobile are presumably a reference to the 1987 Steve Martin film. Incidentally, there are plenty of direct flights from Glasgow and Edinburgh to Milan, from which presumably they could drive, so I'm not really sure why they would need to take the train as well. However, if Simone really has stolen their private jet that might explain why they had to take a commercial airliner. :-)
2) The discussion of Jedi and lightsabres is obviously from Star Wars, while Xander and Oz were discussing Superman's weakness to kryptonite way back in Season 3. Also, "Who would win in a fight between X and Y" is a standard geek trope.
3) Vanity Smurf is from the Belgian comic and its TV adaptation. I knew that, but had to look up the specific character. Amusingly, according to his Wikipedia entry (yes, I know...) "Vanity is the epitome of a Narcissist. He has a flower in his hat, and he often holds a hand mirror, staring into his own reflection, which he kisses often." You can tell why Andrew might identify with him and feel he's "misunderstood" because of his behaviour.
4) The references to (Anastasia) Dualla, Lee (Adama) and Billy (Keikeya) are all from Battlestar Galactica. I don't watch that show and so had to look this one up. I don't know why Andrew refers to Dualla by her surname and the two men by their first names; is it a BSG thing or an insight into Andrew's character? Anyway, Billy and Dualla had a relationship but when he proposed to her, she turned him down - and he was killed soon after, and she later married Lee. Who, apparently, then put on weight. This storyline was broadcast in Spring 2006.
5) I had to look this one up (which I managed by Googling the phrase "fascists took over England", if you're wondering.) It's a reference to the Alan Moore comic V for Vendetta, and the character who wrote her autobiography on toilet paper was called Valerie Page. She'd been imprisoned by the aforementioned fascist government for the 'crime' of being gay. The comic came out in the 1980s, the film version in March 2006.
6) This is a reference to the Dungeons and Dragons game Andrew played with Giles, Xander and Amanda in 'Chosen'. "Talking about your character" is another RPG-geek stereotype. It's interesting that Andrew has (a) noticed that Buffy and Giles aren't talking to each other but (b) he doesn't know why not, suggesting it's not common knowledge.
7) Linda Hamilton and Arnold (Schwarzenegger) starred in the first two Terminator films. Schwarzenegger, but not Hamilton, also starred in the widely criticised 2003 film Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.
8) Helen Keller (1880-1968) was a writer and activist noted for being both blind and deaf. The idea of her being a secret agent is Andrew being weird, but I'll note that in the shooting script of 'Dirty Girls' Faith seemed to be thinking along similar lines: "They say your other senses get better. Maybe all blind people are smokin' in a knife fight. ... Not sayin' it's likely."
9) Heath Ledger was nominated for an Oscar in 2005 for his role in Brokeback Mountain (are you spotting something of a gay theme in Andrew's geek references yet?). He died of an overdose in January 2008.
10) The character Don Draper is an advertising executive in the 2007 TV series Mad Men, set in the 1960s. (I had to look this one up).
11) The Italian count who wants to give Andrew "private driving lessons" (ahem) is presumably an original character.
12) The "No bitchassness" quote comes from something producer and rapper P Diddy said on the MTV reality TV show Making the Band in 2003. I looked this one up too.
13) See (1).
14) Andrew is singing the theme tune of the 1980s children's cartoon series Jem. Jem is the alter ego of an ordinary girl called Jerrica, who transforms herself into the famous rockstar using advanced hologram technology to disguise her true identity. (Could this be a clue that Andrew is actually Twilight, using a similar technique? Nah, probably not.) Yep, I had to look this up.
15) Daniel Craig first appeared as Bond in the 2006 film Casino Royale. As we know from 'Anywhere But Here', Buffy is also a big fan of his.
Incidentally, Scott Allie has pointed out that Season Eight works on "comic book time", which is rather more vague than real world time. Specifically, in this case, the writers are using present-day pop culture references that the casual reader will appreciate, rather than spending time researching what characters in 2004 or 2005 would be talking about. As we find out later with Buffy's reference to having been friends with Xander for eight years, we're still supposed to consider Season 8 as taking place over the course of a reasonably short period of time (one, maybe two years) rather than the entire period from 2003 to 2009.
I have to admit I laughed when I found out why Buffy really said "Stop". The reasons for her interest in Daniel Craig are pretty transparent, too... though the casual "I've done that" about running on rooftops was pretty funny too. Especially since Buffy has done it for real, and Craig presumably had stuntmen and safety ropes and stuff. Once again, the writers decline to commit themselves on Andrew's sexuality, just as he declines to commit himself on the subject of Daniel Craig's swimming trunks. It's generally accepted that he's gay but completely in denial about it, although the thought occurs that maybe he's heterosexual, just very camp and non-traditionally-masculine and we're all being prejudiced by assuming that means he must therefore be gay. Or perhaps he's leaping into bed with hot, hunky men all the time, but chooses not to discuss his sexuality at all with Buffy and her gang.
We get another example of Buffy's empathy when she agrees with Andrew's comment about bullies.
Nisha's quite a fun character, in her acerbic and sarcastic way. Judging by her name and skin colour, she's Indian in origin, incidentally. It's interesting that she already knows that Andrew created the Ragna demon and arranged the trap - something Buffy does not know. In fact, Buffy's dislike of research shows her up even more here; if she'd discovered beforehand that Ragna demons were supposed to be extinct, she might have suspected Andrew's story earlier. But apparently her organisation is carrying on all sorts of projects without her knowledge, despite her being its leader - a theme that recurs in this episode, not to mention being the whole point of the Simone arc. Buffy's not as in control of things as she'd like to think.
Nisha's reference to Andrew performing "recombinant DNA experiments" to bring back the Ragna demon is a homage to Jurassic Park. I'm not sure if we're supposed to take her literally, but I suspect not. She was joking, and Andrew used more traditional magic demon-summoning and cross-breeding methods to bring back the Ragna. Remember, back in Season 6 when he was part of the Trio demon-summoning was his speciality (and something he learned from his famous brother Tucker, no doubt). Oh, and Charlotte is a reference to the children's novel Charlotte's Web, about a friendly spider of that name. Like Buffy, I can also remember reading it as a kid.
And now, enter Simone. Her hair is the same as when we saw her in episodes 2, 5 and 11, but now she's apparently wearing a hussar jacket like the one Captain John wore on Torchwood. She's loyal and supportive of her friend, contemptuous and bullying towards Andrew, and treats Buffy on equal terms while being not at all a member of the Buffy fan club. The line about "I am a threat" and her casual zapping of the demon show her up to be pretty badass too. So in short: a charismatic bully. A dangerous person.
An interesting insight into Andrew's current state of mind comes next. He's lying and devious, but pretty decent at heart and wants to meet his responsibilities, and is pretty mature about that. He's got a problem about asking for help, though, and therefore keeps secrets from his friends.
It's no wonder Buffy is reasonably sympathetic with him; she surely sees a lot of herself there. *g* Although her line about "Lying to me is [the way to make me lose faith in you]" is classic no-nonsense Buffy. And Andrew doesn't think she's a fan of irony, which is itself ironic considering the theme of this month's episode.
And now they get to travel in a boat, as well as a plane, train and car. Buffy is still pissed off, by the looks of it. The village is, indeed, beautiful; the little Italian peasant girl in rags is straight out of Central Casting, though. But she clearly touches Buffy's heart, and Buffy is still in her determined mood as she promises to explain to Simone the ethics of home stealing. (Shh! Nobody talk about 'Touched'!) Interestingly, this small island fishing village apparently has its very own opera house. Those wacky Italians, eh?
And now we get to the passage that has set the Internet aflame with comment. Well okay, not really. But here in episode 8.23, and for the first time since 7.22, the name "Spike" is uttered out loud. *g* And we get Andrew's definitive judgement on the Bangel versus Spuffy controversy, as he tries to set the record straight by telling Buffy everything he needs to tell her before his anticipated death at Simone's hands:
"Now that I've met Angel, I have to say, Spike was so much edgier, you definitely traded up, I'm totally Team Spike. Also, I know I'm in the minority, but I liked it when you cut your hair."
Buffy's reaction is to stand there, open-mouthed in shock, utterly gobsmacked for two entire panels of the comic.
Now, it's possible that she's shocked at the news that people hated her short-haired look (I assume this is a reference to 'Gone'). But assuming it's the first part of Andrew's comment that hit her, I can speculate on some reasons.
1. The simple mention of those names got to her, because she thinks Spike is dead. (Or does she???)
2. The idea that Andrew is passing judgement on something so personal to her shocks her. After all, Buffy herself knows nothing of the shipper wars waged in her name by fandom.
3. It is, I suppose, possible that she didn't know that Andrew had met Angel, and was shocked by learning this. That would give comfort to the people who think Andrew lied in 'Damage' about having received his orders from Buffy. This episode itself also supports that, by showing that Andrew is capable of coming up with elaborate schemes and not telling Buffy about them.
4. Buffy is shocked by the affirmation of her relationship with Spike by a third party. Remember, in Season 6 she was bitterly ashamed of herself for sleeping with him; in Season 7 she was extremely defensive about him, and had to endure the suspicion and hostility of Xander and Dawn, Willow pushing her towards Robin Wood instead, and Giles's murderous betrayal of him. It's hardly surprising that Buffy might conclude that nobody else would ever understand or support her feelings for him... and now to hear Andrew not only accepting her relationship with Spike but saying that Spike was better for her than Angel was... well, I think those are words that Buffy never thought to hear from anyone. I wonder if she'll continue to think them over in the coming issues?
Anyway, on with the plot. Buffy finds herself surrounded by Simone's army. Incidentally, there are 19 people in the room plus Simone herself, Andrew and Buffy. Later on, Simone mentions her "16 Slayers", so I have to assume 3 of the people in the room are non-Slayers - Wiccans, presumably. Or even just hangers-on or groupies. It's worthy of note that all the people in the room appear to be women; Simone's gang might be anarchists and rebels and criminals out to have fun and take what they want from life, but they apparently haven't acquired boyfriends for themselves. So either moscow_watcher</lj>'s theory about the side-effect of the Slayer Empowerment Spell is true after all; or maybe they've got the boys chained up in their bedrooms. *g*
As other people have noted, it does test the suspension of belief somewhat that Simone could take over an entire island - even a really small one - without the Italian government intervening. Simone talks about fear; they must be really afraid of these 20 girls. She talks about being the "agents of change and fear" - and remember that back in 'A Beautiful Sunset' when we last saw Simone Buffy was also talking about herself bringing change, and how that was a good thing. But now she rejects Simone's attempt to claim she's the same as her - maybe it's the "fear" part that she rejects. "It's not who I am".
For a moment, let's just compare Simone to Faith back in 'Consequences'. There are definite similarities: Faith also wanted to use her powers to have fun, and rejected the rules placed on her by ordinary society because Slayers were better. However, there's also a big difference. Faith was still committed to the idea of helping people and fighting evil, she just thought she should get special allowances made for her because of that, and be allowed to do whatever she wanted to because she was one of the good guys. (*cough*just like Season8Buffy*cough*). Simone, however, is motivated purely by selfishness and anger. In fact, as we soon learn she's also incredibly petty and spiteful. She has a grudge against Andrew because she thinks she's better than him and yet he was placed in charge of her, and she just wants him to suffer for that.
And nothing gets Buffy angry faster than an attack on one of her friends... and nothing makes her realise she's friends with someone faster than them being attacked. (See: Tara, 'Family'). Let's also take a moment to admire her courage: she's surrounded by 20 assorted hostile Slayers and witches, with no back-up as far as she knows, and she's completely unafraid.
For all her anger the sword duel is a bit random, but fun nevertheless. Maybe Buffy just wanted to knock Simone down a peg; I'm pretty sure she's not out to kill her. Errol Flynn may have swung from the chandelier, but I bet he never made a standing jump from the ground up to one, then flipped himself one-handed over the top of it while cutting through the rope and dropping it on his opponent. Incidentally, note that Simone is left-handed - or at least she holds her sword in her left hand. I wondered about the gun for a moment, but looking back I saw that she does indeed have a holster strapped to her leg, so its appearance was legitimate.
The symbolism of Buffy, the experienced fighter, and Simone, the younger, arrogant and faster challenger, is obvious. And Simone wins the fight, because she's more ruthless and willing to use a gun, which Buffy isn't. Yet.
Andrew gets his glory moment as he's willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good. Buffy cutting short his attempt to quote Spock from 'Star Trek' because she's "geek-bonded" with Xander too and already knows the quote is amusing; and notice that even with a gun pointed at her face she's not backing down an inch. Her actions here have been compared to the argument over saving Willow as opposed to stopping the Ascension in 'Choices', and also to her actions in 'Time of your Life'. There she was willing to sacrifice a group of innocent people now in order to strike a greater long-term blow against evil later. Here, though, she does the opposite: she puts saving Andrew's life now above the potential and abstract threat later she would otherwise prevent. This is an important moment for her, and the look on her face as she says firmly "Because that's who I am." brings that home. This is, quite possibly, Buffy's season 8 epiphany, or at least the start of it.
Of course it's not entirely uncontroversial; saving the life of one of her friends now even if it means more people will die later on is hardly unproblematic. But that's the way Buffy works; and she'd argue that she will probably find a way to save the other people too, if you give her the time. The 'General Buffy' of late season 7 and early season 8, willing to sacrifice even Dawn for the cause if she had to, is gone.
And with that, in comes the cavalry. It is quite touching to see that the rest of Andrew's squad are actually loyal to him, and not about to see him hurt. Also, note that it was Xander who organised the whole thing by letting Italy Squad know what was happening.
On the other hand - see how Buffy is almost sidelined as an irrelevance. Italy Squad are here to rescue Andrew, and Buffy is an afterthought. And when she wants them to take back the island for its original inhabitants, she's overruled. "With all due respect", the other Slayers are not going to obey her orders. Looks like the Slayer Army is not quite so hierarchical and disciplined as some people thought, eh? Although the fact that it's fellow-Slayers, not demons, they're opposing might help explain the reluctance to actually fight them. Just as we saw with Simone's challenge, and as we've been seeing in episodes like 'Wolves At the Gate', Buffy's position as leader of the Slayers is in danger of becoming nothing more than a respected but powerless figurehead overtaken by younger and hungrier competitors.
Buffy does still get a moment of coolness, however. I think it's very symbolic that she grabs Simone's gun away from her to do it with. We all know how Buffy hates guns - something referenced twice in this very issue. But now, having recognised that loyalty to her friends is "who she is", she is willing to take up her enemy's weapon herself and use it - not to kill anyone, but in an act of liberation. Shooting the padlock off the Ragna's cage with one shot from a handgun from about 15 feet away is not a bad feat of marksmanship... suggesting that a Slayer's affinity for all weapons does extend to guns as well, and it's only Buffy's personal hang-ups that made her awkward around them. Until now.
It's quite impressive how Jeanty managed to make the Ragna demon seem sympathetic, even though she's a big spider with bulbous red eyes and chittering mandibles. She looked all sad and pathetic in the cage earlier, and when Buffy frees her she seems to be thinking "Oh wow! Thank you, mysterious small blonde human!" Notice also that she's given the privilege of a gendered pronoun instead of just "it". Simone's reaction is pretty funny too - and Buffy's act in closing the double doors leaving the people trapped in the room with a demon is a call-back to both 'Potential' and 'Reunion'. I wonder what happens to the Ragna; Buffy assumes Simone's gang would kill her, but I'm kind of hoping she escaped and will live on to appear again.
So Buffy went out on a high note; but it was still a lost battle. Simone still controls the island, and the Pitiful Italian Peasant Girl and her Grandmother are still homeless. It isn't fair, and Buffy knows that. The only positive, except for the personal character development, is that at least they know where Simone is now.
Are those her pyjamas she's wearing, or just casual clothing as she leans sexily against the doorpost to tell Andrew it's time for bed? *g* The final scene is a nice moment for Andrew fans, of course (I hear there are some). For Buffy, though, it's important as well: she's in a space where she can recognise that she and all her friends are people who screw up, make mistakes, commit wrong actions - but these are all things you can come back from and remain part of the family, as long as you're willing to be honest and face up to your faults. It's an important lesson.
"The thing about changing the world... once you do it, the world's all different."
- 'The Long Way Home'.
"Everything in our lives has changed. It isn't fair."
- 'Predators and Prey