StephenT (stormwreath) wrote,

(Review) BtVS TotV: The Thrill

'The Thrill' isn't really part of the Season 8 storyline - it has no issue number, and none of the regular characters are even mentioned - but after some consideration I decided to review it anyway. So here we go...

So, we start off in a tiny, boring American town where the only things open at night are an arcade and the 7-11. Our 'hero', Jacob, is a teenage emo kid who feels that his life is empty and meaningless, possibly because he spends most of his time at the arcade and has no friends. He also smokes, which is proof he'll come to a bad end.

Jacob meets May, a cool chick who has her own pick-up truck and wears sunglasses at night. Jacob, naturally enough, is smitten. So, apparently, is May. This could mean that she notices that Jacob actually has the potential to be a nice guy, or maybe she's only a predator looking to seduce him, or maybe she's just really, really bored. Then we get the set-up for the tragic love triangle which will shape this episode: Jacob's (only) friend, Alex. She's glad to see him; he gives her the brush-off and wanders off leaving her behind. She looks less than impressed by that.

Now we get to the meat of the issue; Jacob offering to let Sebastian the vampire feed off him. This is played completely as a drugs metaphor, with Sebastian as the pusher - as compared to 'Listening To Fear' where the metaphor was prostitution. The contrast to the usual Buffyverse set-up is apparent; here a human is trying to persuade a reluctant vampire to bite him. Note that Alex is aware (and disapproves) of what he's doing with the vampire; and Sebastian has already fed on someone else that night - so it's clear everyone in town knows about what he is.

Notice, though, that when Jacob arrives home  - apparently bathed in sweat and looking paler than before - he tells his mother indignantly that he's "not on drugs". Well, not as such.

Jacob dreams of a half-naked Alex coming into his bed... and then she turns into a vampire. I'm interpreting this as Jacob's urges having got all mixed up. The only thrill he feels now is when he gives himself to a vampire, and so his subconscious is presenting his sexual attraction to Alex through a filter of vampirism. Buffy complained that for vampires, sex and death are two sides of the same coin; it seems that Jacob, despite being human, has had his own psyche perverted in the same way already.

However it happened, Jacob has realised he likes Alex, and next morning he asks her for a date. She seems pretty pleased at the idea, and agrees readily. Considering that later on she complains about May "stealing Jacob form her", it's clear she's already in love with him and presumably overjoyed he finally asked her out. Even the colours of the page are warmer and different to the rest of the comic.

But then that night Jacob discovers that doing deals with evil soulless monsters is not always the safest of choices. Sebastian may be happy to feed off humans without killing them as a rule, but as soon as one of those humans tries to defy him, he goes into a rage and beats Jacob to death.

Except that he wakes up again, naked in bed with May. While this is presented in a similar fashion to his dream of Alex, it seems like it's real - at least, May really was in bed with him, and when we next see her she's just getting dressed again. Incidentally, it looks like the bloodstained vampire teeth in the fourth panel on this page are Jacob's, not May's, since her face and hair is shown off to the side - but in the next panel Jacob has no blood on his mouth. Presumably it's a miixture of dream, memory and reality.

May apparently really did save Jacob because she liked him. She gives him the Vampire 101 (in a scene that reminded me strongly of the 'Vampire:the Masquerade CRPG tutorial segment), then takes him back to the arcade to feed on his first victim. At first I thought said victim was Alex, but it's a different girl - I also assume she survives this experience given what Jacob says in his voice-over. Jacob assumes that the girl he feeds off has the same motivation as he used to; looking for a thrill to liven up her empty, meaningless life. (Given the way she looks at him, I'm wondering if "wow, he's hot" might have more to do with why she follows him outside - like Jesse in 'The Harvest', being turned seems to have turned the dorky guy into someone cool and dangerously sexy.)

As for Jacob, the bloodlust of feeding, and the fact that he is the one taking action and affecting other people, make him feel something for the first time in his life. But then he meets Alex - naturally worried and angry at being stood up for her date - and of course being undead he no longer feels any love for her. He's more interested in playing buddy-buddy with Sebastian, except that - as we'll soon learn - he plans to dust him in revenge for his own death. The old Jacob would never have done anything so decisive.

Note that Alex here puts into words what nobody else does - that vampires are soulless killers who regard humans as just food. She's angry, brave or foolish enough to confront Sebastian directly... note that nobody in this town seems to be afraid of vampires any more. Alex also mentions "that stupid reality show" as being responsible for making people think vampires are safe - pretty much the only direct reference to Season 8 canon in the issue. Jacob's mother seems just as blind to the dangers vampires present; she quickly adjusts to her son's new circumstances, moves his room into the basement and jokes about him not eating salad any more. "You're still my little boy."

The single most chilling moment of the issue was Jacob idly musing if he should kill his mother, then deciding he can't be bothered.

But despite becoming a vampire, Jacob's routine hasn't really changed. He still feels empty inside - probably because he's still not actually doing anything with his (un)life, or connecting with any people.

Finally, we get the big face-off as Alex meets May and discovers she's a vampire. It's also revealed that Alex is a Slayer... and that she carries a stake around with her. The people watching the confrontation - and I'm not clear if they're humans or vampires - apparently do know what a Slayer is, but treat it as a term of abuse... or possibly as a generic word for "someone who kills  poor, innocent vampires". However, notice that Alex doesn't kill May for being a vampire - she never did anything to hurt Sebastian before, despite knowing exactly what he was - she kills her out of jealous rage over Jacob.

Alex then sobs that she "never wanted to be a Slayer", she "just wanted a normal life". She clearly sees being a Slayer as a bad thing - not surprising, considering the reaction of those around her to the revelation. However, I should point out that until this reveal, a normal life was exactly what she was having. She was going to school, hanging out with her friends. Nobody knew she was a Slayer, nobody was trying to kill her; and equally, she wasn't going after vampires. True, she tried to persuade Jacob not to let Sebastian feed off her, but she apparently made no attempt to kill him. It seems that for Alex, "being a Slayer" was just a guilty secret she hid from those around her, because she was afraid they'd hate her for it, but it had no actual effect on her life until she chose, finally, to act.

But it only takes her so far. She does nothing to resist Jacob when he bites her; overcome with grief, self-loathing or an unwillingness to hurt him, she just passively accepts her fate.

A furious Jacob tells Alex that "Vampires don't hurt people... drunk drivers are more of a threat than we are." Considering that his next action is to kill her, I think his assurances lack credibility. He then offers to turn her, but we don't know whether or not she accepts. (Thus leaving open the canon question as to whether Slayers can be turned, and whether the vampires they become have any special powers.) As for Jacob, killing his only friend feels like "coming to life" - he finally knows what he wants from life, and ends his passivity in favour of becoming a soulless killer.

So that's the story. There is an intresting parallel to be drawn to the Slayer organisation, where the theme of "connection" and "family" between all the Slayers who aren't Buffy is being strongly emphasised. Jacob, the loner who drives his friends away, ends up throwing away his life in a meaningless search for thrills... but then discovers that power over other people, affecting others' lives, can be intoxicating. You can compare that to Buffy in S7 and S8, perhaps. The other theme is the importance of taking action. Alex acted to kill May, but then retreated back into passivity. Jacob spends the whole episode passively drifting from event to event, moving through life without touching it... except for the brief moments when he actually feels connection to people and acts to affect their lives, which ar the only times he feels any happiness.

Finally, a word about what's happening regarding the whole season arc. It's been hinted that the sudden worldwide acceptance of vampires is not entirely natural, and that Twilight is involved with it somehow. This issue does a good job of showing how ordinary people now see the undead. They're exotic and glamorous, and (so people think) offer enough danger to be thrilling without actually being a real threat. In Jacob's words, you're in more danger from a drunk driver. Not everybody actively seeks out vampires; they appeal more to the disaffected, the lonely, the outsiders; but even someone as reassuringly normal as Jacob's mum doesn't seem particularly alarmed to discover her son is now a vampire.

As for the vampires themseles, the ones we've seen seem to have adapted fairly quickly to the new situation. Ones like May are teaching their fledglings the rules on how to get by wihtout alarming the humans into taking extreme measures. The vampires' essential nature hasn't changed - as we saw with Sebastian, they're still arrogant, ruthless killers - but they're also adaptable enough and know when they've got a good thing going on.

It's interesting that the only person who we're shown not accepting the vampires at all is Alex... who turns out to be a Slayer rather than a normal human. This suggests to me that magic is involved somehow, probably linked to Harmony's TV show. (Remember how the puppets in 'Smile Time' were using their TV show to enchant children? Same kind of deal.) Humans are being subtlely induced to view vampires as perfectly normal and acceptable. Slayers, and other people with supernatural powers, are immune to the spell... which might be why Twilight wants to get rid of them. (Or it might just be that the spell isn't aimed at them because Twilight needs them as a scapegoat and threat, which wouldn't work if the Slayers were also "yay vampires!".)

Tags: buffy, review, season 8, season 8 review
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