It's been almost a year - since September 2008, to be exact - since we had an issue of the comic that fell into the middle of a multi-episode arc. I've almost forgotten what it's like. (Slightly frustrating, actually, because lots of plot elements are being thrown at us but none of them are being resolved yet...) But at least the story feels like it's moving forward again, and even picking up pace.
Also, we get the long-awaited reunion, after five years, between Willow and Oz. So did Willow dump Kennedy, forget all that "gay now" stuff and have a happy, tearful and passionate reunion with him, as a large faction of fans apparently hoped? See under the cut for the answer...
No. But the scene we do get instead was certainly unexpected. :-)
But back to the review. Amy is still using her magical powers to spy on Buffy and Co, but they've figured that out since the last episode, and arranged for her to be fed misinformation instead. Twilight doesn't fall for it, though, and reacts with angry violence. Notice how Amy's magical scrying water remains suspended in mid-air even after the bowl is broken? Also, Jane is now full-on teasing us about his identity, with the revelation that he "knows Buffy too well" - something that Warren picks up on, just to make sure we readers notice the point. So either Warren doesn't know Twilight's true identity, or he does, but didn't realise he knew Buffy - which would mean Twilight is someone from before Season 5. Riley's there too, being practical and efficient... and the man in military uniform, while drawn too far away to be sure, looks very much like he's General Voll. Which would mean Buffy didn't kill him or take him prisoner after 'The Long Way Home'. (I didn't think she would, but there was a question mark there.)
Another interesting comment is when Twilight talks about searching a dead dog for fleas. In other words, he says it will be easier for him to track down the Slayers if he destroys the world first - or at least wipes out all the magical creatures straight away, so the Slayers will stand out more clearly. What's fascinating is that he says this as a passive-aggressive threat, to get his team to work faster. "Do your job properly or I'll commit genocide, and it'll be all your fault!" is certainly unique as motivational strategies go... Note that as he says this, it's Riley that's in focus in the panel. Warren and Amy are presumably motivated purely by self-interest; a pogrom of all magical creatures would include them too. What's Riley's angle?
Back to Tibet, and the people meeting Oz are stripped down to the Core Four, new and old versions - Buffy, Xander, Willow, and both Giles and Dawn. It's been a long, long time since we saw a scene like that. Wonder what Willow and Kennedy's conversation was like just before this meeting? Also, notice that Xander and Dawn have - entirely coincidentally - sat down right next to each other, practically touching, and are conducting their own private conversation. Hmm.
So Oz is married, and has a child. Looks like Willow/Oz is pretty much off the menu now. :-) Until I saw the preview of this episode I have to admit I didn't see that coming at all - although it does make sense. The original high school characters are all in their mid-twenties now, and Oz was actually a year older than Buffy and Willow, and always one of the most mature characters. While comic book time does seem to go slower than TV episode time, 'Buffy' was always noteworthy for showing its characters growing up, and this is a welcome development.
We're not actually told the baby's sex. 'Kelden' is a Tibetan name which can be used for either boys or girls; it's also an Irish boy's name. On those grounds I'm going to tentatively say that Kelden is a boy, and await Jossing (Janing?) in the next issue.
I laughed out loud at the puppy/baby joke, even though I was kind of anticipating something like that. Jeanty once again proves that while he's not so hot on making the characters easily recognisable, he's perfect at facial expressions. At the news that Oz and Bay have a baby, just look at the reactions. Giles is shocked. (I don't think he likes babies...) Xander is delighted. Dawn is in full squee-mode, and almost looks like she's about to cry with happiness. Buffy is gently wistful. Willow looks upset, but trying her best not to show it. Then the dog barks and every single one of them looks identically freaked out... Oz's understated reaction when he realises their mistake is, well, pure Oz.
Flashback time! We see something of what happened when Oz first arrived at the monastery after 'Wild At Heart'. The monks just watch him in a mysterious and inscrutable fashion, although it's possible they're thinking, in Tibetan, <<Who is this stranger and why is he yammering on in his foreign language that none of us speak?>> I'm also curious to know who gave Oz that cup of tea he's holding; maybe it came as a freebie with the sari he bartered a Radiohead CD for just outside the monastery. The other mystery is what happened in between Oz transforming into a werewolf and him waking up in a cage being served butter tea. Are the monks also werewolves who've mastered the transformation? Or do they just offer their services to passing lycanthropes, and subdued Oz through magic or their mystical Tibetan-monk kung fu moves? We don't know.
The rest of the flashback is simply re-capping what Oz told Willow in 'New Moon Rising', complete with a cameo flashback from Tara. Two years ago it was revealed that Georges had been practicing drawing Tara... presumably this is why. Oddly enough, I have to say it's not a bad likeness even though I would never have recognised her, if that makes sense. I think he's drawn Amber Benson rather than Tara Maclay...
Oz with the tail sticking out of his mouth is an odd image. At first I thought it was a feather, part of some weird magical ritual; but I assume it's because he ate a squirrel as a wolf, then changed back into human before he could swallow. Which, yuck.
When Oz talks about "just giving in", Willow seems to have her heart in her eyes, being all empathetic, while Buffy is even more wistful. Looks like the idea of just giving in has occurred to her too, at least in a "wouldn't it be nice if I could?" way. The fact that by trying to hide herself away and lose her powers she basically *is* giving in presumably hasn't occurred to her yet, although most of the readers get it already. :-) While Oz's wife is cuddling her baby in this scene, Dawn and Xander are both making a big fuss of the cute puppy. Is this meant to be foreshadowing, I wonder? :-)
Lots of Twilight scenes this episode, and the big T is getting more actively involved in things rather than leaving it to his minions. Is this significant? Jane teases fandom unmercifully with the "It's a pretty big spike" line, and the fact that both Riley and Twilight repeat the word "Spike?" in surprise. Meanwhile, Amy and Warren are still arguing - do they ever do anything else? - about last issue. I assume Andrew is who Amy is describing as "your little pet".
Riley's role in the scene is interesting. The nameless (and doomed) minion in glasses is convinced he's discovered that Willow teleported the submarine to Central Asia - and he is, in fact, perfectly correct. But Riley is doing his best to convince him that it's nothing, it's just a random glitch caused by interference. He even acts dismissive when Twilight comes over to see what's going on. So does Riley really believe it's a glitch? Or is he covering for Willow and Buffy, trying to throw Twilight off the scent, which means he is a triple agent? another mystery for the list...
More Oz flashbackery. It's interesting that he doesn't tell the story entirely himself, though. Bay also takes up the narrative - her dialogue is the speech with a purple background, while Oz's is orange. Nice to see that this Original Female Character is taking an active part in the story rather than just being decorative or a plot object. In fact, it seems it was mostly her - with his help - who moved on from the monks' teachings to develop a new method of keeping the wolf from taking over.
That answers a question some people were asking back when Part 1 came out - Oz failed to suppress the wolf back in S4 after his visit to Tibet, so why would we (and Buffy) expect him to be better at it now? My answer at the time was "Well, he's had five more years of practice" but it seems the real answer is that he and his wife came up with a better way of doing it. One which doesn't *suppress* the wolf but allows it to pass through without taking control of you.
BAY: "It turns out the secret isn't in bottling up the wolf."
OZ: "The wolf doesn't like that."
Oz's conclusion - that you can simply stop being a werewolf, let the energy flow through you without it changing you, and have a normal life - is obviously something that Buffy finds extremely seductive. Just look at the way she's looking at him as he says that. (Meanwhile, Willow is even more upset, and Giles is remembering why he doesn't like babies.) Giles is sceptical about the whole thing, and Dawn is worried about Willow. Buffy's concern is more practical, that she prefers action to sitting around and meditating.
A humorous little interlude as the gang find out exactly what they've been drinking. ("Yak butter. Rich, foamy. Straight from the yak.") Buffy has the worst table manners, since she spits hers out, but Dawn's face is the funniest. Oz shows he's all perceptive and caring and mature by noticing Willow's unhappiness and offering to talk to her about it. Dawn holds on to Xander to, er, "support him on the slippery rocks". Yep.
Oh, forgot to mention the whole Monroe sub-plot. As far as I can see, this is just setting up some dramatic tension and a Little Bad for the episode to provide some danger, aside from Twilight's team. Although it does provide the vehicle for confirming that Bay is also, like her husband, a werewolf. There's also the parallel with Slayers like Simone, of course, who revel in their Slayerness and think it makes them better than normal people, just as Monroe's werewolves do.
Oz's comment about the Buddhists was very funny. Dawn's misplaced enthusiasm in her new insight into Slayers, then backpedalling as she realises she's just called her sister a demon, was also a good character moment, although I'm not entirely convinced by her logic. Her glee in listening to the story was adorable - and reminiscent of her listening to Spike's stories in S5.
Back to Casa Twilight for the moment, and the Geeky (but Doomed) Minion makes a valid point - if Twilight is so anti-magic, how come he's happy to surround himself with people who use magic openly? Could it be that Twilight is a hypocrite, or that he tells a different story to all the people he recruits? Surely not...
My favourite scene in the issue was the next page, with its multiple conversations. Bay saved Oz's life, but did it by turning into a wolf, which is kind of a betrayal of their principles. But her own biggest regret is a tactical one - that by killing Monroe she turned him into a martyr for the rest of his werewolf band. She also turns out to have quite a sarcastic tongue on her, with the (quite true) comment about how teleporting submarines is less than stealthy. Meanwhile, Kelden has stolen Giles's glasses, and Dawn and Xander are - guess what - walking on together ahead of the others in a private world of their own. Buffy is focussed on business and her objective, as always. And Willow and Oz are having their heart-to-heart conversation.
It's interesting - and rather sweet - to see Willow in apologetic and self-doubting mode ("I'm being jealous and hateful and I'm so sorry"). It's almost like seeing Oz again has rewound her personality back to its Seasons 2 - 4 state. However, while Oz wonders if she's jealous that he's married someone else, Willow explains that it's the *baby* she's jealous of. "You have a life. You have a future. You have what I want". I've seen a comment to the effect that this is a slam against Kennedy - that Willow doesn't see her as someone she can have "a life" or "a future" with. That's possible, certainly - and if Kennedy were listening in and feeling uncharacteristically vulnerable, she might well assume that was what Willow meant. However, I think it's simpler than that. "It's the baby." Willow's getting broody; and that's not something she and Kennedy can ever hope to do together. (At least, not without magic; I've even written a story about that myself. But I suspect that's not a route Joss would choose to take the canon story down, because it would be too facile and unrealistic compared to the real-world situation.)
The interlude with the werewolf attack was a little odd. I assume it was one of Monroe's band, and is there to set up a big fight in the next or next but one issue. Note that it's Bay - and not Buffy - who drives the werewolf off; Buffy barely reacts. That knife doesn't look big enough to do much damage, but I assume that's the point; the werewolves are still humans, and killing them is not the object except in self-defence. Though maybe the knife is silver?
The final Twilight scene was pretty funny too - outright farce has been missing too long from the Buffyverse, and Twilight's "They're probably not even in Mongolia" was a classic. (Does Mongolia have mountains? I thought it was flat steppes. *Checks atlas* Huh. It does have them.) However, Twilight's order to kill the man that "found this 'spike'" is rather more disturbing. It's the sort of thing the classic evil Big Bads like the Master used to do - kill a minion who fails in his job - and it confirms that despite all his talk about protecting humanity from the evil of the Slayers, he's pretty much definitely a black hat himself. What's more disturbing is that Riley stands there so calmly. Is Riley now evil too? Or just playing a role?
So the episode ends with Oz explaining the plan to the assembled Slayers. Rather than suppressing their Slayerness, they have to let the power flow through them and out like a river without it changing them. Which means no more super-strength, no more magical quickness. Oz warns them that a crisis might come along and tempt them to use their powers - but if they start the process but don't complete it (and it takes a year) it can be "dangerous". Dangerous how? He doesn't say. Maybe it turns them less human, more Slayer, as Buffy was threatened with in 'Get It Done'.
And last of all, Twilight predicts that Buffy's attempt to "lay down her sword" will fail. (I think it will too; I think the Slayers will be forced to use their powers by the end of this arc, although possibly not until after someone has died because of it). He then goes on to say that his ultimate aim is to make her "turn her sword against herself." Hmm. Does that mean he wants her to forcibly reverse the Slayer empowerment spell, turn back time and make the other Slayers normal girls again? Is Twilight, in fact, the embodiment of the faction in fandom who say that 'Chosen' was a mistake?
Only time will tell...