The final issue of Season 8 is a Buffy issue, through and through. It opens with Buffy working as a waitress. Bleak, right? Buffy doesn't think so. She's working an honest living and approaching her life with a can-do spirit. Whatever money she stole from her bank robbing heists appears to be gone. And I have to wonder if she didn't wash her hands of all of it and that's why she's working in the service industry—a place where you're hired quick and you earn money fast (though not a lot). I bet Buffy could siphoned off a few hundred K and opened her own dojo to teach martial arts or something like that, but instead she's starting fresh and waiting tables is what she's qualified to do.
Who knows what she'll do next? I like the idea of her taking college courses for adults continuing their education (a more flexible schedule and she'd hopefully be moving towards a more steady future). But that's for later. Today, she's working, she's putting her best foot forward, and that best foot's getting kicked out from under her by an angry young woman who feels Buffy betrayed their cause. But you can't keep a good Slayer down and Buffy manages to catch and balance her tray of drinks on her foot with a triumphant, “Ha!” She's sad the girl attacked her, as anyone would be after they'd been physically attacked and publicly, but she seems to carry a hint of resignation. This girl's angry, blames Buffy, and the girl's not all wrong.
Kennedy has little sympathy for Buffy's plight. She believes Willow could've beaten the invading demons back (I personally don't agree, and even if Willow could've won, I imagine the world—and the people living in it—would've been torn apart in the process), and that Buffy's to blame for the loss of magic. Buffy defends her decision, then resigns herself to the fact that people are gonna blame her no matter what she says, and decides to move on to talking about Kennedy moving out. Of course, she's got it all wrong—Kennedy's not the one leaving Willow, Willow's the one who dumped Kennedy. The art for this scene is moving and I was definitely feeling sympathy for Kennedy's upset. She's harsh and tells it like she sees it, but she's genuinely hurt and I was moved to see Buffy recognize this pain and try to comfort Kennedy (a person she's never really got along with).
Next scene opens with Buffy and Willow sitting in the grass watching the sun set beyond the Golden Gate bridge. End of an era, both of magic and of Willow's relationship with Kennedy. I think Willow's projecting her insecurities when she says Kennedy was only into her because she wanted to be with “a superhero”; not exactly fair to Kennedy to believe she's that shallow. But then Willow reveals the real reason for the break-up: she has feelings for Aluwyn (Saga Vasuki) and she's mourning this loss as she'll never see her again. (And I'm torn on being critical here, but I feel the need to comment on the art. For all the lovely art throughout this issue (and there's some panels that are so perfect I want to frame them), there's one panel of Buffy that made me cringe. When Buffy says “preemptive break”, she looks like a hobgoblin. I hate to say it, but I think it's my least favorite rendition of her character in all of Season 8. Ouch.)
Willow doesn't seem interested in blaming Buffy for the loss of magic, which is mature, but she does recognize that Buffy made a choice and changed the world in a way they hadn't predicted or planned together. They both changed the world together in “Chosen” when they empowered the Potentials, but when Buffy destroyed the Seed she made a choice without Willow's input and expressly against her wishes. And there will be consequences. “The world is less” and I've come to think of this as a commentary on the direction we're headed in real life. Pollution, threats of nuclear holocost, oil spills, stripping the Earth of its natural resources—humanity devours and does little to offset the cost done to the natural world for which we inhabit. Magic is gone, Mother Earth's soul has been shattered, and the world has lost its ability to heal itself. It's a dark future on the horizon. “Is [this future] worse than being destroyed?” Willow says, “Not yet. But eventually it will be.”
For all that Willow has reason to be angry with Buffy, instead they talk and end up watching the sun set as they hold hands. Their friendship is stronger than betrayal. And isn't that the hope for our future? That we as people can live in harmony and in peace? It starts with one person being kind and forgiving to another.
Buffy's still being plagued by nightmares, only these are memories. They don't disappear when Dawn “poke, poke”s her awake because they're “true”. Dawn and Xander have settled into that domestic dream they'd talked about in Issue 37, a nice apartment while he's working a job and Dawn's back in school. Meanwhile, Buffy's playing the third wheel, crashing on their couch while she gets her life in order; Xander's still her “hero”, too, “but different” from how he's Dawn's hero. Dawn is wonderful in this scene, encouraging Buffy and reminding her that she's “not alone”, which prompts an “I love you too” from Buffy. Dawn's the one offering Buffy support during this tough time. Dawn's got her life in order, a boyfriend and an education in the making. She's helping Buffy get back on her feet which is a lovely inversion of their relationship. Dawn's grown up and she no longer needs to be rescued. Instead, she gets to help rescue Buffy in the way her sister most needs: love and support.
The General's appearance is brief and heartbreaking. His phone conversation with his wife is cut off when Simone appears as the elevator doors open and shoots him in the head. The art calls back to Ethan's death at another General's hand in “The Long Way Home”. The set up for Season 9 is clear. The world is now full of superpowered girls and some of them are royally pissed off. Simone's set herself up as an assassin, taking out the players lined up against her. Buffy's next on her list.
Giles is buried (with roses on his casket which others have noted is a disturbing callback to “Passion”) and his will is read: he's left all his worldly belongings to Faith Lehane. The panel of Buffy crying is heartbreaking (and I teared up while reading this). She takes it as a rejection, but Faith counters that everyone knows Buffy's the “number one son” and that Giles left everything to Faith because she's weak. I think Faith's projecting here with Giles, just like Willow did with Kennedy. It seems to me that Giles had two things to give to the two people he loved and was closest to. To Faith, he left his home, his possessions and all his worldly goods, to show Faith that he did love her and that she was worth much (and it's especially poignant considering Faith's rough upbringing for her to be treated as the heiress to Rupert Giles estate). To Buffy, he left the Vampyr book which he slammed down in front of her upon their first meeting.
While it might have been touching for Buffy to have received some more personal gift to remember Giles by, I can't help but think that Giles bequeathed to her that which he held most dear, that which he'd sacrificed his life and, even his morality, for: the mission to protect “this sorry world.” Though he may have doubted her ability to kill Angel to save the world, both in Season 2 and again in Season 8, it seems clear that he believed in her and wished her to carry on their mission even after his death. They shared a sacred bond. If Faith inherited the estate from Rupert Giles (and the werewithal to carry out her mission of saving lost girls), then Buffy inherited the title and the honor of upholding the ancient tradition. Faith's right in a way when she says Giles thought Buffy “was stronger” than she was, but I think it's more that Giles thought Buffy was strong. Period. His gift shows that he has faith in her and that he entrusts his life's work in her hands. It's a beautiful scene, touching and quite simply perfect. Buffy has her mission and so too does Faith: she's determined to help Angel, to help him find the path.
Spike arrives with a tap on the window and makes a fuss about not being invited inside. Note her words: “Not my house, Blondie-Bear.” See, it's not her house. It's Xander's and Dawn's. Buffy doesn't have the right to invite people inside when she's a guest herself and only sleeping on the couch. In fact, could Buffy even invite Spike inside? Buffy's essentially having an extended sleepover. Willow couldn't invite people inside Buffy's home even though she slept over nights during high school. I think it's simply true that Buffy feels she doesn't have the right to invite Spike inside and what's more, she doesn't think of the apartment as her home so metaphysically speaking, she might not even be able to invite him inside.
Spike meanwhile shows his support and the snark between the two is on fire. If Kennedy provided the point of view that Willow could've beat back the invading demons and saved the world, Spike presents the point of view that Buffy did what was necessary to save the world. She faced impossible odds and she “pulled her people through.” Spike's still got the faith and, in my opinion, he's seeing the practical reality of the situation (and his hilarious bad taste in television never fails to make me laugh—Spike watching “Dancing with the Stars”—of course he'd be watching that and no doubt yelling at the judges).
I think Spike's faith in Buffy was something Buffy couldn't easily accept, which is why she bursts into tears. Pretty much everyone is either blaming Buffy (the Slayers, Kennedy, even Buffy herself) or saying what she did has doomed the world (Willow), so it's hard for Buffy to accept someone's support without bursting into tears (perhaps it feels too much like being forgiven; "please don't forgive me").She's not out in the cold though. Dawn's keep a roof over her head and giving her support, Giles has reaffirmed his belief in her mission, and Spike's ultimately affirming her choices and actions (sure, she ****ed up, but he seems to think that ****ing up was in the cards given the impossible circumstances and that what matters is that she pulled through in the end; he loves how she tries).
The next scene has Dawn making faux sex noises to chase Buffy off the couch and out of the apartment, meanwhile Xander's just getting out of the shower and wondering, “Did you say something?” It's an incredibly comical scene and it manages to once again show how Dawn's looking out for Buffy by inspiring her to keep moving forward. The panel of Buffy eyeing her city from the rooftop is a favorite of mine. She's on the prowl, looking to fight that evil, and out of the blue she gets walloped in the head by a rock. Three Former Slayers (I'm calling them “former” because while they still have the power, they've refuted the name) have arrived to gang up on Buffy and get payback for Buffy's betrayal.
(To paraphrase) For betraying the cause, for cutting off the line of Slayers, destroying the Wiccan community, tainting the Earth, and letting all her friends down—yeah, Buffy realizes she ****ed up. She's not going to fight it or the Former Slayers. There's a brilliant line where one F.S. Makes a lame insult (though not as bad as “scared hair”, sorry, Spike) and Buffy retorts, “Yeah, you really shouldn't let them banter till they're trained.” Less-than-scary banter aside, the Former Slayers attack Buffy, three against one, and Buffy lays them low, immediately calling back to “The Long Way Home” when Buffy was training Satsu, Leah and Rowena (speaking of, where is the Elite Three?). Buffy ends with a warning that if the Former Slayers attack her again, she will fight them. She doesn't relish “tak[ing] out [her] own girls” but she's not going to let them play out their “thug” fantasies and beat her to a pulp. There'll be more consequences for her betrayal: Willow's shown researching Aluwyn which no doubt signals that she's going to try to bring magic back, the fairy from “The Chain” is shown flying free from a sewer grate which gives the sense that she's lost her home down below, Simone's gunning for Buffy on her assassination spree, an unknown man covered in blood is shown looking menacing—it all shows that there's more obstacles to come.
Buffy tried to change the world and the world pushed back. You keep trying, though, and you “hope” that you've pushed that boulder a little bit up the hill. This seems to be the true example of the balance Giles spoke of in “Twilight”. Change comes quickly, so it seems, but then it also comes so slowly. Progress can feel like moving at a snail's pace, one step forward, two steps back. But you keep trying, Buffy keeps trying.
The point's driven home again and again that Buffy's alone in this fight. She's lost her Watcher, there's “no more gang”, Faith's busy helping Angel and other girls, all the former Slayers still have their powers but they've abandoned the title of 'Slayer—it's just Buffy now (with her cub reporter, Spike, hovering in his ship and ready for the assist). Her status has taken a hit: she's no longer the leader of an army (it's been disbursed) and she's working for tips (but it's an honest living) while she's figures out her life. One thing is clear, though, she's got a mission. The issue closes with her rescuing a girl being attacked by a vampire in an alley, rescuing an innocent's life, something she lost track of with the weight of Slayer General and the Big Picture knocking her askew (think back to how she was willing to sacrifice people for the Big Picture in ToYL). She says, “Let's go to work,” which echoes Angel's words in “Not Fade Away”, but this final scene is still all Buffy's. The girl being attacked in the alley—that horror image was the inspiration for the creative birth of Buffy Summers.
The art does Buffy justice on the final page. She's flying through the air, stake in hand, blood on her temple and a determined look on her face. She's out in the night, fighting the good fight. She's Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.