When you finally get the big picture, when the story begins to reveal itself, when it all just clicks, when you have that epiphany you can go back to the beginning and see the great care and precision of the storytelling.
In light of my recent essay on the overall meaning of Season 8, I'm going back to the beginning. Here's my close reading of...
The Long Way Home
How has Buffy changed the world? How is the world all different?
Buffy is jumping out of a helicopter with three Slayers. This is a brand new Core Four—not Buffy, Xander, Willow and Giles of the early seasons or Buffy, Xander, Willow and Dawn. Just Buffy and her three best Slayers. Buffy isn’t connected to the people who symbolize her humanity—they’re held at a distance. Xander is only communicating through an earpiece.
There’s 1800 Slayers all over the world, but only 500 working with Buffy. This number is way larger than what was shown in Chosen. By changing the world, did Buffy bite off more than she could chew?
The first decoy is “underground, literally.” From beneath you. This girl is the heroic symbol of the season, the aspect of Buffy that we’re seeing get chipped away as Buffy goes dark in Season 8. In this first issue, we learn that the heart of Buffy’s heroism has been buried. Buffy’s out of touch with the decoy, a girl who understand the mission is what matters, not the name, not fame. The decoy is connected through the chain—she feels connection while Buffy does not.
“Here at command central, not so much with the hilarious. More with the ‘what the hell am I doing’?” Yep, Buffy’s bitten off more than she could chew.
She then tries to reassure herself that “it’s not all that different. Still got my demons. And I still got my watcher.” Still got her demons: Buffy’s still got her issues, the things that have haunted her for years: her death by the Master, her relationship with Angel, her relationship with Spike (and what these symbolize)—Buffy’s formative issues are in play. Her demons are still haunting her.
Note also how Xander has been relegated to the role of Watcher—adding formality to a friendship doesn’t necessarily make the friendship stronger, but rather complicates things. The trappings of the organization can create barriers between people—imagine Buffy and Xander working together but separated by a cubicle. They’re introduced as being separated by distance here (this resonates with the Riley one-shot: commitment through distance). What it adds up to is that Xander and Buffy are distant from each other even as they’re together as friends and co-workers. In terms of Buffy’s connection, the people who are by her side now are Slayers, not her friends, not her connection to humanity. Her connection to humanity, Xander, is far away and she can only distantly hear his voice (resonance: Buffy can still hear Xander’s call in the Twilight dimension in #35).
Xander used to be the guy who builds things, now he’s holding down the fort. This gig is one he’s taken on out of a sense of duty, one he couldn’t avoid because of his sense of honor. Perhaps what he doesn’t realize is that he’s still in construction—he’s helping these Slayers to grow and mature into their power. And also in this role, he’s helping to build an army.
Just as there’s way way more Potentials who became Slayers than we thought going on the information of Chosen, the responsibilities and problems caused by Chosen are “a lot bigger than [anyone] thought.”
Bottom corner panel of page 7 (the bottom corners before you turn a page are key in comics). Xander is looking at the screen and seeing the back of Buffy’s head when he says “Okay, Buf. Game on.” The image on the computer screen isn’t good quality, he can only see her from a distance, only the back of her head. This isn’t the hi-def experience where you can say it’s better than reality. This distance is affecting how Xander sees Buffy. Xander is the heart of the group, but he’s also the one who sees. What does this say that his view of Buffy is from a great distance, being controlled by Satsu who’s wearing the camera, and the image is not in perfect focus? Xander can’t see Buffy as well as he used to; not only is his vision impaired by the eye patch, but by distance, technology and lack of direct control (he can only see what Satsu sees, and Xander sees Buffy through a filter, Satsu is the one who actually sees Buffy).
Buffy and Xander’s focus is completely on the Slayers. Xander is dealing with Andrew’s squad and trying to avoid another Orvieto debacle. Buffy is all about the mission—“Their first victims. Gotta get ‘em past it.” Note how it’s Renee who Xander has the witty banter with, not Buffy. Note how Buffy puns off what Satsu says: “Can’t see a thing.”/”Can smell a thing, though.” Buffy and Xander are mom and dad to the Slayer organization, both leading them. But if they’re mom and dad, consider how they’re more intimately connected to the ones who are at their sides: Renee and Satsu. If they remind anyone of a married couple here, they’re a couple that’s been distanced and are about to cheat on each other. Xander will romantically pursue Renee. Buffy and Satsu will eventually sleep together.
“Flank ‘em. Now.” Buffy orders her Slayers to divide and conquer. The Scoobies are now divided. Buffy is divided from her source of strength, her “ties to the world.” Willow is absent in South America. Giles is in Russia training Slayers. Dawn has been at college, but she’s returned as a giant (a curse Dawn herself instigates because she feels distant from Buffy—Dawn also strongly represents Buffy’s humanity).
The power of three again. Buffy + three (Willow, Xander, Giles historically, but now Willow, Xander, Dawn) = the Core Four. Three Slayers are with Buffy: Leah, Rowena and Satsu. Three demons in the church. What do these three demons symbolize?
First, the language is very snake-like which makes me think of Saga Vasuki. But there’s also resonance with the Master and Angel and all vampires: Buffy looks tasty to them. She’s now a “sad little girl” (see Jeanty’s cover for the Chain to show how I think Buffy being a “sad little girl” relates to the formative issues haunting her, the Master and Angel, Prophecy Girl and Innocence). The way Buffy uses the cross shows that just because a relic doesn’t hold fantastic meaning doesn’t mean it still doesn’t hold power, that the object isn’t still dangerous and essentially powerful. When you look at an object, the meaning one attaches to it isn’t necessarily its true power. This makes me think of the meaning Buffy attaches to Angel—she sees him as her great love, the one who makes her feel safe and protected when he’s really the one who hurts her the most—this is the guy she thinks she’ll never be able to love more than Angel in her life. What does the Master see when he looks at Angel? The Master sees Buffy’s weakness. Angel is a weapon to be used against Buffy.
The Twilight symbol is a “self-inflicted” wound. The fun theory going around is that if you flip the symbol, it’s the Hellmouth and the star is the Seed of Wonder. So destroying the Hellmouth is, according to Buffy, a “self-inflicted” wound. This is what she’s done to herself by her actions (and Willow’s and Spike’s—who both did what she asked of them) in Chosen. The Twilight symbol is going to clear up what happened in Chosen and show how the present is “all bad math” and why.
The next scene takes us back to Sunnydale where the army is examining the crater. “But no bodies, and no mystical readings.” Amy proves this to be false—there are most definitely bodies and magic down there. The army are oblivious to her presence, though. We also know the Master is down below and with the Seed of Wonder which is the source of magic. So, the army are, as usual, clueless and have no idea what they’re getting into. Taking this to a symbolic level, the army represents the unaware conscious state where we are blind to what goes on “beneath you”—our logical, rational brains work unaware of what’s bubbling underneath the surface where the demons live inside us.
Isn’t that disturbing what Buffy did to her hometown? Sure, Sunnydale was on top of a Hellmouth, but that’s always been symbolic of the inner demons that are always haunting us. What Buffy did by giving the amulet to Spike was essentially destroy her home (and even destroy the balance of her psyche, the balance that kept the demons “beneath you”)—not just close the Hellmouth, but destroy all the good with the bad. Razed it to the ground. Isn’t that just as ruthless as Sherman burning his way through Georgia during the Civil War? What happened in Chosen was hardly a perfect resolution—the entire town was destroyed. And symbolically, the light of a soul channeling sunlight into the dark matter, the underbelly, destroying all the demons—isn’t the battle with demons necessary? Don’t we all need that dark space in our psyche for the balance? And isn’t it better to have the demons relegated to that dark space beneath us than for the demons to be spread throughout the world, any and everywhere?
Back to the Twlight symbol and Buffy asks, “So what’s it all mean?” Xander and Buffy are together again, but they’re not looking at each other. They’re staring at the symbol. This shows they’re still close, but their first shared scene emphasizes that this new organizational structure has put a serious distance between them. Not only is Buffy distanced from Xander, but she needs Xander to push her to go see Dawn, another person she’s not connecting with.
Enter Dawn, the symbol of Buffy’s humanity, a very sad giant who is sleeping outside the castle proper. Dawn, Buffy’s neglected humanity who’s got such huge problems that Buffy doesn’t know how to fix. And Dawn won’t talk to Buffy about them. Also interesting to note how Buffy wants Dawn to go back to college at Berkeley—which is what Buffy would want for herself if she weren’t bound by Slayer duty. (“It's not like I don't have a life. I do. I have Dawn's life.” – Buffy, Tough Love)
The action of Buffy’s scene with Dawn depicts Buffy walking up past Dawn to get outside onto the lonely tower of the castle to overlook her Slayer kingdom—Buffy walks past her issues with her humanity and refocuses on what she thinks is her big picture view from the castle—instead of looking inside, she’s looking out from a fairytale vantage point. Instead of reconnecting with her humanity, reconnecting with her sister, Buffy and Dawn get into a fight. Buffy says, “Thought I’d come and see you.” And Dawn replies, “’Cause Xander made you?” (Resonance: this won’t be the first time Xander prods Buffy to connect with people. In A Beautiful Sunset, Xander worries about Buffy spending “too much time alone.”) Buffy once again disconnected from her humanity. And while she and Xander are at a distance and Xander isn’t clearly seeing Buffy in perfect focus, he does still have insight into what’s wrong with Buffy.
Buffy’s been out of touch with her own humanity ever since Chosen, ever since she changed the world. The age also is significant for the last time Buffy said it was to Angel in Chosen: “You know, I started it. The whole having a soul. Before it was all the cool new thing.”/”Oh my god, are you twelve?” Buffy calls Angel out on his immaturity, admits Spike is in her heart in this scene, and sends Angel packing. This is before Sunnydale is destroyed and arguably before she loses her internal balance represented by destroying her home—the town and the Hellmouth beneath it. Yet even then, Buffy still holds onto this idyllic fantasy she has of Angel and a fairytale future with him. Buffy’s still got issues she’s never really put to rest.
“I miss my home.” The same home that she destroyed in Chosen. Razed it to the ground. She misses it—does she regret destroying it? Was destroying the Hellmouth and Sunnydale wrong? It’s apparently upset the balance of the world and the balance within Buffy.
“I miss my mom.” Another person Buffy left behind in Sunnydale. The graves lost in the wreckage has always struck me as tragic. Willow can’t visit Tara’s grave to pay her respects. Buffy and Dawn can’t visit Joyce. Giles can’t visit Jenny. Sunnydale has been turned into a mass grave (another resonant comparison to Hitler and fascism).
“I miss the gang.” And here Buffy straight out says it. She misses the gang. She’s out of touch with her friends and her sister. And without her “ties to the world” to keep her grounded, Buffy is now “somehow leading an army” and makes reckless decisions like, oh, robbing banks. These actions are out-of-character for a reason.
Hello Innocence! How ya doing? Buffy brings up her traumatic first time with Angel here in the first issue. She’s “still got [her] demons” haunting her. Note also how Dawn, Buffy’s humanity, wants to talk to Willow about her first time. Willow, Buffy’s best friend. Way back in Season 2, Willow was the one who Buffy always confided in and had the heart-to-hearts.
Right, she’s a “big girl now” but has she really matured? The demon she fought earlier called her a “sad little girl”—which one is she: “big girl” or “sad little girl”? Again, take a look at Jeanty’s cover to The Chain. Buffy is both. She’s a mature woman who’s “still got [her] demons” which make her a “sad little girl” on the inside.
The first issue sets it all up. It ends with Amy holding an orb which resonates with the end of Last Gleaming as the Master holds the glowing Seed of Wonder. The issues are all laid out: Buffy is out of touch with her humanity, distanced even from Xander who’s fighting by her side, ignoring Dawn who as a symbol of her humanity desperately needs her attention, and out of touch with Willow and Giles who are completely absent. What Buffy did in Chosen is being shown to have serious consequences, not only in changing the world, but in how it affects Buffy. And her issues are still there—the primary one being her loss of innocence from her first time with Angel.
Season 8 begins with an out-of-touch Buffy still haunted by her formative issues and struggling to reconcile the events of Chosen with this brave new world she’s responsible for creating—these are the issues that will challenge Buffy on her long way home.