I know of several fans who stopped reading the comic because of something they were certain was going to happen in this issue. So, obviously, there’s no way to avoid spoilers because we’re going to address that topic pretty openly. The last issue ended with Spike telling Buffy that he thought it would be best if they broke up. Now, Buffy fans take their shipping very, very seriously. And people have dreamed of Buffy and Spike as an actual, healthy couple for a long time. For over ten years, in fact. To actually see this in the comic book, to finally have that relationship be validated on such an amazing scale, I understand why they feel everything so deeply. I really do.
But I also love the way this issue plays with certain expectations. We’re not used to happiness in the Buffy universe. It’s not something that tends to stick around. Healthy couples don’t usually get to stay healthy or even together for very long, especially couples that either Buffy or Spike are a part of. That’s not to mention the fact that when Buffy and Spike were initially put together way back when, the relationship was very pointedly toxic. But they were different people then. And that, really, is what this issue is all about.
What happens is that Spike tells Buffy that it would be so much easier if they broke up now in order to avoid hurting each other even more later on, and Buffy tells him “No.” Now, just reading that at first might sound bad, because it’s generally considered bad form if you don’t just let someone break up with you. But everything that follows her saying that is kind of beautiful.
The bulk of this issue is a genuinely adult conversation about conducting adult relationships. It is, in essence, the story of Buffy and Spike and everything that brought them to this point. Of course it would be easier to call it quits, but the easiest thing is very seldom the best thing to do when you love someone. They’ve both had their share of troubles in past relationships, especially with each other, and they acknowledge that. Buffy is frankly glad to hear he’s having doubts and admits that she has her own and that that’s the healthy thing to do. Have doubts. Talk through them and be stronger for doing so.
And Spike, God bless him, acknowledges the unhealthy way he obsessed over Buffy. He talks about how he put her on a pedestal and is perfectly self-aware without taking us out of the moment. He throws away the notion of Buffy, the goddess he worshipped for so long. Spike finally discards that and focuses on Buffy the woman. She’s flawed and he’s flawed and they both love each other for it and that’s a place I’ve been rooting for these characters to reach for a long, long time.
But the issue is not solely devoted to Buffy and Spike by any means. Dawn and Xander have an incredible journey home, an adventure that’s probably an epic in its own right but that we see just the right fleeting moments of in order to be totally satisfied with. As friends or romantic partners, the trust and strength they find in each other is incredible. I know not everyone loves the arc Dawn has taken this season, but I do.
I’m in the vocal minority, but Dawn has always been one of my favorite characters. And while I love the comics, she definitely got the short end of the stick in terms of characterization in both season eight and season nine. Things happened to her and other people had to solve them and fix them. In this arc, Dawn has found an incredible strength and she’s found herself lost. But now she’s not only using that strength, she’s relying on her own largely untapped wit and intelligence to navigate her way through Hell and back to Earth, with only Xander’s trust and support in her as her guide. Plus, in the middle of all of this, we finally get to see the world of nothing but shrimp.
Willow, too, also has some nice moments as she realizes that while she doesn’t disagree with the reasons she chose to work alongside the military, they will always have a different agenda. Andrew, too, also comes to terms with some incredibly important things about himself.
In general, this is a beamingly positive issue, overall. Yes, that probably means something bad is going to happen and as we head into the final two issues of the season it’s clear that the gang are in for a hell of a fight. But for basically the first time this season, I am certain that whatever is coming, they can kick its ass. This group is back and working as a unit again and they are doing it in a way that feels not only earned, but necessary. Whatever they’ve done, even if they’ve never been a truly core part of the group, they are now. If anything ever made Andrew’s place in the ensemble official, this is it.
If people have abandoned ship—pardon the pun—I’d advise them to hop back on board, because season 10 is drawing toward a really promising close that leaves me more excited for the upcoming season than I’ve ever been.
WICKED RATING: [usr=8]