So, the ongoing storyline of 'Buffy' Season 8, back in Tibet. Remember that? Before all the hoo-ha about Twilight? (That's hoo-ha in the sense of 'kerfuffle'; I'm not saying that Twilight actually has a hoo-ha in any other sense. Though he might. Or she might.)
My understanding is that this issue was a late addition to the season; the original plan was to go straight from Jane Espenson's 'Retreat' arc to Brad Meltzer's 'Twilight' arc. However, timing issues meant that there would be a delay, and Joss decided he would personally write a fill-in episode to bridge the gap between the two plots, and also address certain emotional entanglements. As such, there's not a lot of action in 8.31, but the conversation that stands at the centre of the issue seems to me to be pretty much the reason for its existence.
Before I get to the review, one note. I think just about everybody, including me, has seen the spoiler about who Twilight really is. However, it's possible there are people reading my reviews who have managed to avoid spoilers so far (maybe by, you know, turning off the entire internet for the last week). For that matter, in years to come people might pick up the 'Buffy' comics from scratch and follow along my reviews as they read each issue. Therefore,
This review does not reveal Twilight's identity.
Please, anyone replying to this review in comments, also respect this and avoid mentioning the spoilers. There are plenty of other posts around where it can be discussed. Thanks!
Just for the record, I don't consider the previews which are officially issued by Dark Horse, or comments made by the creators in interviews, to be spoilers. They're more like the "In next week's episode!" clip shown after the end credits of a TV show, and as such have presumably been carefully chosen to whet people's appetite without giving away anything important about the plot. But spoilers which are released accidentally or through malice are different; they're not part of the creators' authentic total vision for how we should enjoy their work.
'Turbulence' begins with the 'Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer' blurb on page two referring to "a poorly-executed retreat." It's almost as if the writers have been reading the fan comments on the last arc!
As for Buffy's first words in this issue, they're obviously a gift to the Buffy/Willow shippers. You can't tell me that Joss didn't put that in there with mischief aforethought. "Doing it with Willow was scary" indeed.
As angearia has documented, Buffy's issues with flying and heights have been brought up all through the season: falling out of the castle in her dream in 'The Long Way Home', jumping off the tower block in 'Wolves At The Gate', being carried through the air by Willow in 'Anywhere But Here' and 'Retreat', and by Twilight in 'A Beautiful Sunset', and even by the dragon in 'After These Messages...' Definite foreshadowing happening there.. but now, we're told, "It feels so natural". Neither Buffy nor the readers know yet how or why she suddenly acquired the power of flight after being breathed on by a goddess, but she has, and 'Turbulence' confirms it wasn't a glitch.
Buffy feeling the urge to hide her new power doesn't seem that out of character for her, though in general the things she hid from her friends were those that might upset them; she was pretty up-front about herself otherwise. But it's worth remembering that her isolation has just increased by an order of magnitude. Before 'Chosen', she was the Slayer and everybody else was a normal human, and that made her different. Then she became just one Slayer among thousands... and found that everybody still carried on treating her as different. And now, she's become Superman. I'd worry about other peoples' reactions too in her place. Though it's possible there's some other reason for her urge to keep quiet, related to the nature of her power-up rather than her personality issues. We'll see if it comes up again.
Now we cut to Willow and Oz talking. This is odd because 8.30 showed Buffy watching as Willow was captured and herded away by Twilight's soldiers. Scott Allie has said this was a mistake, and the drawing in 8.30 should not have shown Willow in the crowd of prisoners. However, given the reveal later in this issue that Twilight used a confusion spell in order to capture prisoners without Buffy knowing they were gone, I think the writers could actually have gone with the original story. Buffy didn't really see Willow being herded away, but Twilight's spell fooled her into believing that. But anyway, it's decided now.
Some nice touches here. Willow guilty that they "brought war to a place of peace" and Oz's sly reference to the whole "Chinese occupation of Tibet" political question. Willow teasing Oz - "You always know what to say, when you bother to talk". Bayarmaa is apparently still alive and recovering, so all the fears of Joss killing off yet another character for emotional impact seem to have been at least temporarily averted. Then there's the magical whammy... the close-up picture of Willow with her eyes blazing green mystical fire (and a huge grin on her face as she gets her powers back) is particularly effective. So this is another colour that Willow's eyes can now turn, apparently. :-)
So what is the 'cataclysmic mystical effect' in the future that powered-up Willow again - not to mention all the other Wiccans? One possible answer is that it's Willow's own death-by-Scythe in two hundred years' time... did she send her own power back though time to make sure she'd have it in time for the Season 8 finale? But then again, she does say that the event is "powerful and coming soon", so maybe it's more related to something happening at the end of the season. In that case, I'd guess that the plot of 'Time Of Your Life' was actually to establish the general idea that a powerful magical event could send ripples back through time, so when it happens again in the season finale we won't be caught by surprise.
Dawn misunderstanding Xander's 'Andrews Sisters' reference to be about Andrew Wells rather than the singing trio was amusing, but also highlights the age gap between them. It also shows that even though the pair of them are going everywhere together, they're still capable of getting annoyed and even sarcastic with the other; this isn't a saccharine-sweet Season-5-Willow-and-Tara kind of relationship.
Nice little scene between Buffy and Riley; I liked their interchange about General Custer. (You'd expect Riley to have better knowledge of US military history than Buffy, of course.) He still thinks she's the best thing ever; this time around Buffy is more willing to accept his admiration than hide from it in shame. It's a nice way of tying things up after 'As you Were'. Of course, we still don't know Riley's backstory or how he got involved with Twilight - though Xander seems to accept the 'double agent' story, and Buffy acts like it's true.
Now the scary Twilight supervillain moment, wherein he reveals that he's captured Giles, Faith and Andrew - and he's done so specifically to mess with Buffy's mind. He wants her to face the truth, and it's implied that all his actions so far have been done with the aim of breaking through her invincible moral certainty. "The truth. At long last, the manifest truth. Buffy will finally see." Of course, that line is also setting up the big reveal of Twilight's true identity (which most of us, thanks to accidental spoilers, already know) but I think he's also implying that he believes he has good reason for his actions - and that once Buffy is able to accept the truth, she'll agree with him.
Twilight is very good at manipulating people and playing with their minds, isn't he? I did like the return of the old joke about people never remembering Andrew's name. Also, I don't know if it's accidental on the part of the letterer or deliberate, but Twilight's voice here uses a normal font, not his usual special one.
Do people think that the four Wiccans trying to magically get in touch with Willow here are also Slayers, with both sets of powers? Or that Buffy's team was recruiting witches as well as Slayers (when it was still up and running)?
Willow fighting the goddesses had a couple of interesting call-backs. She refers to herself as "back to being sorceress supreme". That's what Buffy called her in 'After These Messages...' during the same conversation where she narrowly avoided telling 16-year old Willow she was actually a lesbian. Did Buffy tell Willow about their dream conversation later, or is it a coincidence?
And speaking of Buffy/Willow lesbian subtext, we've already seen Buffy flying through the air like Superman; now here's Willow flying and using a magical lasso like Wonder Woman. And in a couple of issues' time, we'll be treated to a homage comic cover which references a classic comics scene of Superman and Wonder Woman kissing romantically. Hmm.
Willow alone is not strong enough to defeat the goddesses... but just think about that for a moment. Willow is fighting three goddesses. By herself. And she believes she at least stands a chance of defeating all three of them at once... And the artwork shows her in some pretty heroic poses too, despite the humour in a couple of the others.
The scene with the dying solder was fascinating... although I'm not sure they did enough to convey the idea that he was actually dying until the last couple of panels. Maybe he should have been given a different font, to suggest he was gasping out his last words rather than conversing normally? But that quibble aside, it was interesting to see that he'd been fed a bunch of lies by his leaders before being sent into war. Typical, really. The idea that the Slayers were all witches who would cast horrible spells on any prisoners they took is apparently what motivates Twilight's army. It adds to the picture of his cynical ruthlessness, and the idea that both sides here are victims.
Also, the poor guy was clearly not genre-savvy. Doesn't he know that mentioning the girl he left behind him is a cast-iron guarantee that he'll be dead before the end of the next scene? :-)
Xander is practical, and all supportive of Buffy, as he often is. Buffy clearly hasn't told anyone yet that she's suddenly become Superman, but she wonders if the same thing happened to Willow as it did to her, that Willow is also now far more powerful than before. Xander doesn't get what she means, but apparently Willow is simply back to normal. ('Normal' for Willow, anyway.)
Buffy calling Xander a Riley fanboy was cute, and we get a bit of continuity porn with the reference back to 'Into The Woods'. It's also interesting that Xander uses the words "I was always Team Riley" whereas back in 'Predators And Prey' Andrew told Buffy "I'm totally Team Spike." I don't think anyone has yet used the words "Team Angel"; I'm certain nobody ever will use the words "Team Parker". "Team Faith" seems unlikely too, but for different reasons. :-) (Would anybody be 'Team Satsu'? Maybe Kennedy and Willow. And Satsu herself, of course.) It's all very meta; does anyone still believe Joss doesn't know about the 'Shipper Wars?
By now, of course, we're into The Conversation. Even Xander recognises that it deserves the capital letters, although he's probably just expecting Buffy to be all protective and "If-you-hurt-my-sister-I-will-hurt-y
Buffy's failed joke about Xander being a "disgusting paedophile" for dating her baby sister was kind of cringy and kind of acute-observation at the same time. It's clear Buffy did think she was joking, but her smile is rather too broad, in a forced "I hate this but I'm going to pretend I'm totally okay about it" way. And Xander was genuinely offended by the comparison, but partly because the age difference between him and Dawn does bother him too and it's therefore a sensitive subject. So there's a tense moment between them. They're the best of friends, but that doesn't mean they can't make crass remarks or get angry with each other from time to time.
Side comment: the comic I bought had the word "paedophile", the British spelling, rather than the American spelling "pedophile". I assume this is how it was meant to be, rather than there being a special UK-only printing of the comic with localised spelling?
Then Buffy confesses her feelings for Xander, or rather, in his words, "at" Xander, and he reacts. The contrasting emotions on her face as she hears what he says are beautifully drawn: shy nervousness, amazed joy, hurt shock and finally anger. Anybody who still says Jeanty can't draw should be forced to sit down and look at this scene over and over until they confess their error. :-)
Xander talking about "making the list" is a very fourth-wall-breaking conversation. Joss surely knows that fans keep very close track of Buffy's love interests... and maybe even that some of them were offended that Buffy would rather sleep with another woman than with Xander. Well, he makes the list too, finally.
It's interesting that Buffy here denies that she has "a list", even though back in 'Wolves At The Gate' she says she does have a list, and Dame Judi Dench and Eleanor Roosevelt are both on it but Willow isn't. :-) But clearly, she doesn't think in those terms normally.
Also, Buffy describes her affair with Satsu as "a phase" - though note that she doesn't reject the term "gay" being applied to her, and even says that she's "supposed to have that phase". Buffy never graduated college, so she can be Lesbian Until Graduation pretty much indefinitely... Not sure Satsu would be happy to hear herself being described as 'a phase', although I also assume she's been resigned all along to being exactly that.
Xander also assumes that it's jealousy of Dawn that triggered this sudden change of feelings in Buffy. Since we've read 'Retreat' we know that's not true; it was just bad timing. But as Xander points out and Buffy realises, it was selfish of her to reveal her own feelings once she knows Xander is together with Dawn. (And I wonder if the comparison with Satsu's feelings for her will occur to her?)
Xander now tells Buffy about the depth of his feelings for Dawn, and uses the actual words "in love with her". He also addresses the elephant in the room, the difference in their ages. I know that in fan discussions of the Xander/Dawn 'ship, this is the one issue that most people who have a problem with it bring up: he's much older than her, and he knew her when she was a child. Joss addresses both these points here; he shows that Xander is aware of and concerned about the issue, but also that Dawn is now an adult woman free to make her own choices. I do love the typical Xander humour of "She's grown. And shrunk".
For the record, Xander is six years older than Dawn - if she's 19, he's 25. (Alternatively, depending on how you count it, he's either 20 actual years older than her or tens of thousands of years younger than her. But as far as their memories go, 19 to 25 is it.) Also, Humbert Humbert was the 37-year old man who attempted to seduce the 12-year old Dolores in Nabokov's book 'Lolita'. Henry Higgins was the middle-aged British academic who attempted to teach
Faith Eliza how to be a proper English lady in No Future For You Shaw's play 'Pygmalion' and its film adaptation 'My Fair Lady' - in which Audrey Hepburn was 35 and Rex Harrison was 56 (though I'm guessing Eliza was meant to be a lot younger than 35... but still an adult).
Buffy tearfully confessing to being "the worst person in the universe" and Xander replying "Ah, it's part of your charm" was pitch-perfect 'Buffy' dialogue. As was Dawn's "cough" when she saw them together - the second time she's caught them like this. She's justified in feeling annoyed. Buffy's embarrassed smile and babble was hilarious. ("Because of sad" is the kind of phrase that should be recorded as a classic example of Buffy-speak.)
And "subtle bosom-pressing" as a deliberate strategy in a hug, hmm? I always thought that sort of thing was just accidental. My worldview: turned upside down. ;-)
"I'm Buffy and I approve this kissage" is a joke that works better if you're familiar with American political advertising. And finally; Buffy's tiny little freak-out at the public display of affection between Xander and her sister: also cute.
Speaking of cute; Willow is locked in battle with goddesses and projecting a giant astral head of herself (like Cordelia did in 'Orpheus'), and yet her main concern is whether her nostrils look huge. I like the different conclusions Xander, Dawn and Kennedy reach when Buffy gives her "something I don't understand and freaks me out" speech... and did I mention it's nice to see Kennedy again? Also, Dawn appears to be rather paranoid about Buffy's intentions towards her... I'm hoping purely in a sisterly-rivalry way inflamed by the recent Xander hugging and non-bosom-pressing, rather than because Dawn is the traitor. And is this the first time Dawn has referred to being the Key since Season 6?
And the reactions? Dawn once again verbalises what's supposed to be a non-verbal reaction. ("Gape"). Kennedy thinks Buffy flying is hot; Xander is very careful to deny, with Dawn standing right there, that he feels any such thing. (If Kennedy thinks flying women are sexy, does that explain why Willow has taken up flying so enthusiastically in Season 8?)
And with Willow at her side, Buffy wrestles the three goddesses back into the earth. She's come a long way since fighting Glory in Season 5 - though she still relies on at least one of her friends to help her, you'll notice. Willow seems remarkably unphased by all this; I guess she's used to strange things happening around her by now. It's no doubt significant that she believes Buffy's power-up has a different cause to her own.
And the jokey punch-line: Willow knew all along that Dawn and Xander were in love, and was waiting for them to realise it too. Buffy's look of shock was pretty funny; the situation is also very true to Willow's character. Ever since Season 1 she was obsessed with her friends' love lives, although at the age of 25 she no longer has to live her own vicariously through them but has her own girlfriend.
Incidentally, there's a call-back here to 'The Long Way Home' where Willow knew that Satsu was in love with Buffy long before Satsu ever admitted it to anyone. Either she's incredibly perceptive, or it's that telepathy she's been using on and off ever since 'The Gift'. Willow doesn't seem to be able to read people's minds on a regular basis (except when she can), or maybe she simply chooses not to; but she is clearly sensitive to picking up feelings of unrequited love.
Buffy, presumably, is upset that back in 'Retreat' Willow was encouraging her to go and talk to Xander and tell her how she felt about him, even as Willow apparently knew already that Dawn and Xander had feelings for each other. I assume, though, that at that stage Willow didn't know if they'd ever accept and acknowledge their love, or if Xander would react to the revelation of Buffy's feelings for him by falling in love with her instead. Basically, Willow just wants all her friends to be happy. (But see also: Tara in Season 6, the entire population of the world in 'Grave'. Willow's omnibenevolence can be scary sometimes.)
And that's it. My firm belief is that Joss used 'Turbulence' for one reason: to establish the relationship between Xander and Dawn as a central and ongoing part of the Buffyverse. That's why he spent so much time on the conversation; why he had Buffy give them her blessing; why he had Xander saying the three-little-words about Dawn; why he confronted head-on the issue of the age difference between them. He even addressed and countered the possible fan perception that Xander was being deemed "unworthy" of Buffy's love and would have to settle for the "consolation prize" of her sister. With all that out of the way and dealt with, the path is now open for Xander/Dawn to become as integral as Xander/Cordelia, Xander/Anya, Willow/Oz, Willow/Tara, Willow/Kennedy, Buffy/Angel, Buffy/Riley and Buffy/Spike to the core of his stories.
Of course, having said all that Joss will probably now kill off either Dawn or Xander in the next issue. He does that, you know.