Buffy season 8 came to an end last month, with issue 40. I have some thoughts on both the final issue, and the series as a whole. I plan on going into detail about the plot, so anyone who has not read the whole thing, and is wary of spoilers, should not read beyond the jump.
Buffy the TV show meant a lot to me. I connected to it from the moment it came on the air, and for the entire seven years it was on the air, I looked forward to every new episode. I think I only missed seeing two episodes the night they aired, that whole time. It is the reason I follow every project Joss Whedon works on with great interest. Somewhere around season two, I became an unabashed fangirl, and haven’t looked back since. And it’s fair to say my own writing has been heavily influenced by it. In that I think a hero (or even more so, a heroine) should not be infallible, that they can make mistakes and fall down, and still remain a hero.
So when it was announced that Joss would be resuming the series as a comic, I was thrilled. I could not wait for my friends to return, and find out what he had in store for them next. The first twenty issues or so were pretty spectacular, beautiful art, and brilliantly written. Having Joss write many, and oversee the rest, assured that the tone of the show carried over to the comics, and that the characters felt true to how they had been previously portrayed. Those issues did a really good job bringing the audience up to speed with what the Scooby gang had been doing since the end of the series. And also establishing new characters to root for, such as Renee and Satsu.
Spoilers from here on. You have been warned, don’t whine to me if you read something you don’t want to.
Some of the highlights of the first half for me were: Xander growing into the role of strategic leader to the slayer army. A great bit of growth, but not one that felt unnatural for him. Buffy getting into a relationship with Satsu. A move that brought a lot publicity and controversy. A lot of people declared that it was totally out of character for Buffy to suddenly become a lesbian. But I think those people were missing the point. It wasn’t played as Buffy discovering a new sexual identity, but rather as her experimenting within the one she already had established. And I thought it was very nicely portrayed. I also quite enjoyed the return of Dracula. A character that actually was more well rounded and interesting in the comics, than in his single episode of the series. Another stand out was the arc Brian K. Vaughan wrote, focusing on Faith. I felt it really got inside her head, and moved me. And I am not even that into Faith as a character. I did love the Fray cross over, and its implications for Willow. And the issue about the Buffy stand in, was sublime. And those gorgeous Jo Chen covers! I want all of them framed on my wall.
The second half of the season however had some flaws. The plot seemed to peter out, and go in circles. First the slayers had to give up their power, to keep Twilight from finding them. Then they needed to get it back to win the battle with the Twilight led army. Then Buffy was inadvertently leaching the power from all the other slayers, and turning into to uber slayer. Then they all had to band together to get rid of the source of magic in the world. It just felt convoluted, and I lost interest in the major plot.
Then there was the fact that they brought back Oz, one of my favorite characters, and one that had been gone since season four. I was really excited when I heard he was coming back. However it turns out that Oz is such a stoic character, that without Seth Green’s subtle performance, he feels pretty flat on the page. It didn’t help that one of his defining traits was his deep connection with Willow, but so much had happened in their lives, and they had changed so much in the intervening years, that that simpatico had all but vanished. I’m not saying I expected them to rush back into each-other’s arms, that would have rung false. But there wasn’t really any moments of shared history between them, that I can recall. Without that, his presence felt pretty incidental. Like he was only there, because Joss knew that the fans wanted that, and not because it served the story. Really, how much difference did Oz’s band of wolves make to the battle?
And there were some out of character moments in the back half. One that stuck out particularly for me, was an issue where Buffy is pulled back to her life circa season one. There is a moment when Cordelia says something mean to Willow, and Buffy jokes to Willow something along the lines of “One day she will be dead.”
I know Buffy and Cordy weren’t bff’s, but they were friends. For her to be so glib about Cordy’s untimely, and ignominious death, really rubbed me the wrong way.
And Xander getting into a relationship with Dawn feels off to me as well. I’m not one of the faction of Buffy fans that dislikes Dawn. Being a little sister myself, I usually felt pretty sympathetic to her. So it’s not that I hate anything that has to do with Dawn. It’s just that while Dawn had long had an on-off crush on Xander, his feeling toward her, always seemed to be brotherly. To have that morph into a romance, feels kinda squicky to me. I know that he isn’t her brother, and they aren’t genetically related, and she is not a child anymore, but it still feels weird. And there is also a part of me that feels like Xander is just using her as a more obtainable Buffy substitute. One that would return his feelings.
(That being said, I applaud his calling Buffy out on her only showing interest in him, after he is taken by someone close to her)
Which brings me to the biggest WTF, of the series for me. Having Twilight turn out to be Angel, was a very unexpected and shocking reveal. Definitely a jaw dropper. But the reasons that were given for him going there, just don’t work to me. We have seen time and again that he is not the type to chase a destiny, with no regard for what it would do to the world. In fact we saw him twice sacrifice things that would benefit him and his possible future with Buffy, because it would mean that innocents would suffer. So to have him go to extremes, and become essentially a supervillian, so that he and Buffy can create a new universe, which just happens to mean the current universe will be destroyed, along with everyone in it. That feels so out of character!
Even after it was revealed that he was manipulated, by primal powers, or something, (did I mention I had a hard time following this?) I still didn’t buy that he would go along with it. And I’m saying this as someone who isn’t a huge Angel fan. He is probably somewhere around twenty on my list of Buffyverse characters that I care about. Nevertheless, the Angel that had been established since his exit from the Buffy series, is one that has a lot of priorities beyond Buffy. His team, his son, the thousands of innocent lives that he feels responsible for. I just don’t believe he would under any circumstances, decide to throw them over, because he has been told he has a greater purpose.
I’m not going to even go into the sex in the sky thing. In my opinion, that was the least of that story arc’s problems.
Alright, so I just complained an awful lot. I feel bad for unleashing that, because I think there was a lot to like over the forty issues. Just less in the last twenty. The writing just wasn’t as tight in the back half.
It was not by all bad. I liked the idea of public opinion tipping in favor of the vampires. And Harmony becoming a reality tv star was a really fun idea. And Spike’s return, in a completely unexplained dirigible, crewed by giant spacebugs! That is a random plot element I can absolutely get behind.
Here’s the thing, despite the issues I had with the last half of the season, I thought the final issue was really good. I like what it sets up for season nine. And I am still super happy that there will be a season nine.
I like that the slayer army is no more. While it was a cool concept, it quickly became unweildy, and drew focus from our central characters. I am looking forward to seeing how Buffy handles once again being a free agent, after having been a general. And I am eager to see how she deals with the many very powerful girls who feel betrayed by her. Though I’m not quite sure why they feel like she wronged them, since they still have all they’re power. It’s the rest of the magic community that she stole something from. (Are there still demons? Or did Clem and Lorne go poof, along with the egg?)
I do think that she made the right choice, and did what she had to, to keep the world from going boom. But nobody else is going to get that, since they weren’t forced to make the decision. Spike was right about that.
Speaking of Blondie Bear, I’m glad he is once again a regular part of her life. Playing the part of supporter and truth teller. I’m even okay if they don’t end up in a romantic relationship again. In fact if they do, I think it needs to be taken slowly, after events are not so raw. And it isn’t just a reaction to what happened.
Giles being dead, I mean. That hurt. For several days after I read that scene, the words “Giles is dead,” would interrupt my train of thought. I love Giles! I don’t want him to be dead. However I don’t see Joss bringing him back to life. Because Joss is mean and likes to make me cry. And he likes to make Buffy cry too, and this is going to keep her in a shakey place for quite a while. (One thing that really does bug me about Giles being dead, other than you know dead Giles, is that it means that when Buffy returns to an audiovisual medium. I do believe it will someday. It means that Anthony Head won’t be in it. Unless Joss does something Jossy, and he is).
As for Willow, I am really interested to see what happens with her. On the one hand, yay! No more annoying Kennedy! On the other, dear god! She is going down a dark path! It really looks like she is going to do something dangerous and destructive to get her magic back. And what did she mean that she broke up with Kennedy, because there was someone else, that she will never see again? For a minute there I thought she was referring to Giles, since she used to have a crush on him. Then I thought she might mean her snake lady teacher, who is also cut off from her now. But I actually think she meant Tara. I think some part of her always believed that if she got enough power, she would be able to bring her back. And I think we will have to deal with the fact that she decided that it was better for the world to burn, than to lose her magic. Honestly I don’t know if there is any way to bring her back from this. Except maybe actually bringing Tara back (although it couldn’t be through her actions). That might be the only thing that would make her let go of the bitterness, that is eating her alive. So yikes, Willow! Just embrace the computer nerd, you were awesome pre-magic too, sweetheart.
Alright, if anyone managed to make it through this novella of a post, I would be interested in hearing what you thought about season eight, the last issue, and what you want to see in season nine.