It's nice to see that Season 8 can still bring surprises. I think I've worked out what's going on in that final scene, but now we'll all have to wait two months to find out if it's the right guess...
Anyway, on with the review.
I was struck by the incongruity of the splash page with the big title saying "Retreat" while Buffy is shouting "Advance!" I'm sure it's deliberate, in that "Nothing is what it appears to be" kind of way.
Having all the characters wearing flak jackets and helmets makes it really hard to tell them apart, which isn't Jeanty's strongest point as an artist at the best of times. Buffy and Willow are always recognisable, at least. Dawn is the one in the purple top standing next to Xander. The three women in the centre are Faith in the blue top, Kennedy (presumably) in the orange top and green trousers, and then Willow. I assume it's Andrew and Giles at the far right, and Giles (in green) has taken off his glasses. Presumably this is something he'd rather not watch too closely?
Amy and Warren having a lovers' quarrel is always fun, and Jane hangs a lantern on the whole "Your plan didn't even make sense" thing about Warren trying to tempt Andrew over to the dark side. Incidentally, I interpret her line "You are no The First" to be said with the same emphasis as "You're no Jack Kennedy". (Though whether Amy "knew The First, The First was a friend of hers", is open to question...) Twilight is ruthless and clinical, the military officer - who's wearing an obviously-US uniform - clearly disagrees with his plan and isn't afraid to say so, but also doesn't contradict him. I wonder if this is General Voll? (In the last Dark Horse Q&As I got the impression they hadn't specifically intended him to be Voll, but there's no reason he couldn't be if you know what I mean.) By the way, while this soldier is in American uniform and the vehicles they're using are US Army issue, the rifles the soldiers are carrying are AK-47s not M-16s. So they're not actually US Army, it would seem.
Dawn's helpful advice on the tactical disadvantages of being a giant was a nice bit of continuity - and her worry about how she looked back then was funny. (So was Xander's unconvincing denial). It's interesting that now even Buffy is shouting angrily "It sucks to be weak", after her temptation to lay down her strength willingly in the last few issues.
It was a bit difficult keeping track of the continuity and identity of the people here, but as far as I can work out, the people turning over the jeep are, from left to right, Willow, Kennedy, Buffy, and an unknown Slayer. Xander and Dawn come and help turn the jeep over, but then go off again. The pink-trousered unknown Slayer is the one who asks "Where?" at the bottom of this page, but she doesn't get into the jeep because she's not shown again. Kennedy, in green trousers, doesn't appear in this picture, but on subsequent pages she's the one driving the jeep.
Bay seems to be still alive for the moment. Her remarks about "They shouldn't have come here." and "We gave them everything" are mysterious and portentous; I assume she's talking about the goddesses because she's realised what she'll later explain - that they've forgotten how to tell goodies from baddies.
An interesting symbolic moment is that Buffy saves Willow's life (or at least saves her from being badly injured) yet again, despite only having normal human strength and reactions. The link between these two characters is definitely an important part of the season.
A nice little Twilight interlude - Warren complaining about why he's the only one of the three not to have binoculars is a wonderfully ironic callback to 'Seeing Red'.
The goddesses start attacking the Slayers as well as the humans, to the great surprise of - well, just about none of the readership. But Buffy is shocked and horrified, and Willow can't believe it either. "We didn't bring help. We brought death." is, of course, a line that can be interpreted a whole lot of ways, and not just about the 'Retreat' plot arc.
It's interesting that the two people who are the first to realise that the goddesses are the enemy, pretty much simultaneously with each other, are Buffy and Dawn. Dawn shows good sense in immediately taking charge of the situation and warning the Slayers to fall back, and Xander follows her lead in a practical and supportive fashion.
Bay (who's still alive!) gives us some important exposition about the goddesses - it's not that they're deliberately cheating on the deal, but that they've been away from the Earth so long, they can no longer tell humans apart or recognise friend from foe. That's probably saying something symbolic about the Slayers too. Faith, characteristically, is the one to spell out what that means: they're screwed.
And it turns out that Buffy was going to rescue Riley. First unexpected twist of the episode. Notice that Kennedy doesn't recognise him; she at first assumes that he's just "a prisoner". Dawn also assumes that, even though she presumably does recognise him. Buffy now reveals that Riley was her man on the inside, spying on Twilight. I'm going to withhold judgement on that until we get some more story; I'm not convinced yet whether Riley is an agent, double agent, triple agent or quadruple agent...
I do wonder what information he's been able to provide Buffy so far, since it doesn't seemed to have helped her much... It's possible that it was too dangerous for him to contact her much before; but now she was forced to blow his cover since otherwise he would have died on the battlefield.
I wonder what fans of 'As You Were' will have to say about this further meeting between Buffy and Riley. :-)
No 'Buffy' episode is complete without relationship angst, and so here it is. Buffy gets all emotional at seeing Xander is still alive and hugs him, rather too warmly. Xander apparently enjoyed it; he has a seriously bemused look on his face afterwards. Dawn is not at all happy with her sister,as you'd expect.
Oh, and fans of the lesser-seen Slayers can score two points if they noticed Leah standing there in this scene.
I did like the ambiguity of Twilight's "He was working for her the whole time" comment followed by Warren's inquiry - classic Buffy humour, and of course it does leave the whole question of who's side Riley is actually on still open. It was also funny the way Warren and Amy completely ignored Twilight to have yet another quarrel, and Twilight just gave up and left them. For a vastly powerful supervillain manipulating people like puppets all over the world, Twilight does seem oddly unassertive with the people he spends most of his time with.
Now we have a pretty powerful emotional scene. Riley tells Buffy that only a miracle can save them. She's at her last ebb; no weapons, no friends, no hope. But this time, she doesn't despair. The next double-page spread is an object lesson in why we should be cheering for her, not Twilight.
He's quite happy to let his own men die ("They're mortal" - does that imply he isn't?); his plan is more important than the lives of his followers. Notice that the fleeing crowd includes both human soldiers and Slayers, now mixed together indiscriminately. Buffy, though, chooses to accept that they've lost the battle, but that the important thing now is to save as many lives as possible. In what's obviously a spur-of-the-moment act of compassion, she tells the Slayers to rescue the enemy wounded too. It's characteristic of her - but such a contrast to the ruthless Buffy we saw back in 'Time Of Your Life'. Just as in 'Becoming', being stripped of all else lays bear the truth of who she really is.
Riley calls her an "amazing woman". Oz, though, points out that all the Slayers who are risking their own lives for the same cause are equally amazing.
At the top of this page, Buffy has given the Scythe to another Slayer to hold. I'm going to assume that it's Satsu, based partly on her skin colour and partly because I can't imagine Buffy trusting many other people to hold the Scythe. (Satsu, in fact, has been shown holding the Scythe in both 'The Long Way Home' and 'Wolves At The Gate'; as far as I can remember, she's the only Slayer apart from Buffy to have done so all season. Not counting Fray, who had her own Scythe.)
What happens next seems to go like this: One of the enemy soldiers is about to shoot Buffy. Satsu notices this, pushes Buffy to safety and shoots the soldier with her pistol. Buffy falls into the hand of one of the goddesses - Remati, the divine protector of Tibet - who stares at her, looking as if she's about to eat her. Buffy is horrified. Then Remati drops Buffy from a great height - around 14 or 15 metres by the look of it - and it certainly looks as if she wouldn't survive the fall.
Then cut to the double page spread and the caption "Five hours later". The battle's over, and the Slayers lost. The survivors are being taken prisoner, and I wonder what Twilight plans to do with them. I can see Dawn and Willow and Giles in the group, so we know they at least survived for now. Buffy is buried in a snowdrift. The snow covering her eyes is particularly creepy - I assume it could happen naturally, with snow setting in the hollows of her face but drifting off the curves, but it looks a lot like the coins covering the eyes of a corpse. Incidentally, presumably everyone else assumes that Buffy is now dead?
But she wakes up, and looks nauseous. She's alone. She closes her eyes... and when she opens them again, she's suspended in mid-air a couple of hundred metres over the temple.
Now there's a twist I didn't expect. :-)
At first I thought she died (again), and now she's a ghost. But after thinking about it, I've come to the conclusion that the goddesses kept their part of the bargain after all. They've returned the power they were offered... but they've returned it ALL to Buffy. When Remati picked Buffy up and stared at her so closely, she presumably finally managed to recognise her as the mortal whose anger summoned her to this plane. So she gave Buffy back all the power the three goddesses had been offered since they were last summoned.
And so Buffy can now fly, because that was one of Willow's powers. Presumably Buffy is now the most powerful witch in the western hemisphere, as well as being a Slayer again. (Remember 'The Long Way Home', when Willow used magic through Buffy's eyes? Foreshadowing...) And possibly Buffy is also now a werewolf. It's an open question whether Slayer power is additive; does Buffy now have the cumulative strength of all the however-many dozens or hundreds of Slayers there were in the monastery? Or are we back to the situation of 'Welcome To The Hellmouth', with only one Slayer in all the world? Either way, it's looking like the people who wanted the spell in 'Chosen' to be reversed just got their wish. (As have the people who preferred it when Willow wasn't a witch, just a hacker...) Things just got really interesting...