Act Two: Act Two opens with Willow sending Andy to retrieve Giles while leaving Mia to watch Bonnie until they figure out what to do with her - but its the meeting going on upstairs that's the interesting part. We get to find out a lot about the other areas of the world where the Council has set up - expanding the 'borders' of possible stories, characters and plots beyond the Cleveland Hellmouth and our central players. We're also reminded of Xander's role at the Council, designing new weaponry for the Slayers and then making sure that the other sites also have them.
Robin is shown in a positive light as well here, as its been his job to coordinate resources between all of the locations that the Council are setting up in. I like the details here, letting us know that just because we've only seen things from the Cleveland branch's perspective, there is this whole worldwide organization being built to accomodate all of the new Slayers and the Watchers needed to assist them. We're also reminded that just because a city doesn't have a Hellmouth, it doesn't mean for a second that they don't have vampires and demons that have to be confronted.
The only missed opportunity here, is that they diliberately name check L.A., but no one wonders aloud how setting up a Slayer base in the city will impact Angel and his team. It would have given us a more nuanced look at what exactly the Council thinks of Angel's re-location to Wolfram & Hart, HQ. We know that Willow is giving Angel the benefit of the doubt because of her call apologizing for Andrew's overzealousness when he went to retrieve Dana (and where the hell is she?!), and we also know what Xander's opinion is of "deadboy". But, it would be interesting to know how Robin sees things, especially with Faith having a sort of blind allegience to the vampire for helping save her life and turn her around. I'd also be interested in what the "official attitude" is toward Angel's organization in general.
As Andrew breaks up the meeting to inform them about Bonnie, we cut to Willow and Jeff. This is really a necessary scene because we needed to deal with the fact that what Will did to bring back Buffy is general knowledge in occult circles, and especially within the Council. Jeff also wants to pull a "bring back the dead" and revive his mother. Considering the fact we've been told before that Jeff has a lot of power, it would have been irresponsible not to deal with the fact that this ritual is now out there and Willow has successfully used it.
They do a pretty good job of getting it out of the way and leaving Jeff not making the attempt by pointing out the disastrous consequences that occurred following 'Bargaining' that took up S6 and S7 of BTVS.
It looks like Willow may have circumvented a disaster, until Jeff sees Bonnie in the Council lobby - at which point he goes ballistic. It's also a really nice touch that his initial response is not as a magic user, but as an angry and grief-stricken young man. Instead of starting with the spell throwing, he just tackles Bonnie and starts punching her out!
He's quickly pulled off, of course, but it's too much to ask to be on Bonnie's side... I was saying "go Jeff" during the short sequence. And, forget that crap about Bonnie being "a girl"... considering her High Crimes, I'd say a little ass kicking is more than deserved by her (she is a great character, though).
We leave the standoff between the Council and Bonnie again to return to England. Here we get to see Ro interact in the new London Council setting with Robson. This character is another that has been brought over from BTVS, where he was attacked and nearly (but obviously not quite) killed by the Bringers. You may remember him lying on a floor while Giles kneeled over him and an eyeless baddie about to behead Rupert?
Anyway, they have a good working relationship and we get some backdrop on the London organization. I think this scene mostly though is to push Ro back to Cleveland. It's short, not boring, but doesn't really add too much to the plot.
Back at the Council, we get some dynamics that hopefully will prove to be fun in future episodes. Bonnie basically gives the Council just enough to keep from be thrown out on the streets, but reserves more than enough to make it worth the Council's energy to keep her safe. You have to admire her brains and sense of survival, even if you want (like Andrew and Jeff) to just beat her.
Act Three: Act three is directly connected to the end of Act II, as the gang gather as an official Council meeting in order to discuss what to do about Bonnie. The concern is how to tell her lies from her truths or half-truths and also how they'll keep her safe with Jeff blaming her for Lily's death. The Council votes to hold Bonnie is a containment cell (which we know is in the Council's basement), with Willow the only one not supporting Giles' proposal (she's also the one most worried about how this decision will affect Jeff's emotional recovery).
But, this first part of Act III, also brings us back to the monster-of-the-week and the mysterious flooding that we heard about in the Teaser. Here's the first clue that WATCHERS gave some thought to Dawn's progression as a character (and they do a lot more with her later). Picking up strands only shown in passing on BTVS (her desire and ability to be a valuable research assistant), they give her SOMETHING TO DO, other than whine that Buffy doesn't connect with her. Something, that frankly, I'm sick of and was disappointed about in the Season 8 comic when she appeared to be stuck as a character to what we've already seen in both S6 and (to admittedly lesser extent) in S7 of BTVS.
I'm very relieved that if they were going to bring her into a recurring role in Cleveland, that she'll actually be treated as a character independent of Buffy. Now, if only Joss would get there, too.
Unfortunately, it also allows the subject of Willow pining for Rowena to come back up. I'd much rather they followed somebody out of the room... maybe Dawn... or look in on Vi or Mia then have to rehash Willow's romantic difficulty again.
In fact, with just a little thinking about it, since we've already "come back around" to the episode opening - they could have gone with a cut to Marsha and started an interesting subplot to be more detailed later in which they explore how being the youngest of the Slayers involved with so much routine violence is affecting her, especially coming on the heels of the details learned here in which we know she's been abused. This would have been a great opportunity to show a spotlight on that character - rather than showing us what we've already seen - Willow wants Ro; Ro is ambivalent and avoidy; Oh, will they or won't they get together?
Don't take this the wrong way, because there is nothing necessarily wrong with that plot on its own, but Ro/Willow are a lot less interesting than Ro as a character and Willow as a character. Their parts add up to more than their whole at this point.
So anyway, in London we have Althenea and Robson working on Ro to call Willow. In Cleveland, we get Xander working on Willow to call Ro.
With relief, we leave Willow to stalk off and go to they Slayers in the field. Again, there's some great work in the dialog between Faith and Kennedy (leading different teams and talking over walkie-talkies) that shows how close they've become in the last year. And, we actually get some dialog from Vi - which has been a rarity - in which she shows that she has a sense of humor.
As the patrols wind on, Faith's team calls Kennedy's to inform them that they may have some oddness when they find an unusual amount of water with no apparent source.
I also like the subtle way that Faith contacts "Gene" to let him know they've found something as well. I thought it was the W.C. - somebody monitoring communications, but it's actually the police. Giving credence to the earlier speculation that the Council has built bridges to the local boys in blue.
We get the first "monster-of-the-week" battle against the Slayers and both Vi and Faith end up a bit the worse for wear. Unfortunately, swinging your fists around doesn't do a lot of good when your foe is made out of water. Thankfully, the (Undine? Abyss alien?) doesn't seem particularly interested in fatalities (we haven't heard of anyone hurt or killed during these 'mysterious floods'). But, clearly, the Watchers will have to take the lead on this problem.
Speaking of Watchers, our Original Good Guy-Watcher is speaking to Robin in his suite and pops a ring on him... an engagement ring! Alas, Rupert and Robin haven't been having a clandestine and steamy affair - Giles is asking his opinion - Rupert is going to ask Becca to marry him!!
And, I have to ask Joss why none of our characters are allowed to have a personal life over in S8: WATCHERS prove you can do both and keep them interesting as characters (except maybe with Willow/Ro). Take a look at BTVS: S8 - Dawn (cheated on her boyfriend, now single), Buffy (single), Xander (single after a promising attempt - Slayer died on him), Willow (allegedly with Kenn, but she's 'giving her space'), Faith (single), Giles (single), and Andy (single - and bored by strip-poker playing Slayers).
Act Four: We take a quick break from the Water-Creature mystery to deal with Lily Lindquist's recent death by seeing the end of her burial service. Willow and Jeff take centerstage here, but there are hints of a relationship developing between Kenn and Mia (they're holding hands) and Faith is going to try quitting smoking for Robin's sake (she mentions she down to ten more left and jokes she'll be turning bitchy soon). We also see that Jeff and Dawn have become closer friends over the past summer (she holds his hand at the graveside, on her other side she holds Skye's... is this a hint of possible romantic tensions ahead? They started to hint at that between Xander-Rowena-Willow, but it didn't lead anywhere - this could be a second sip at that dramatic cup, but we'll see).
There is immediate conflict between Jeff and Willow, as we bring up the subject of Bonnie at the Council. And Jeff knows just how to explain his anger and sense of betrayal:
"Warren Meers," he said softly before finally turning around to face Willow. The name cut her comments off immediately and she looked away. "Would you live with him if you hadn't killed him? Even if he had useful information?" he added sarcastically. When Willow didn't say anything, he went on. "That's what I thought…I'm no different and I refuse to live with the woman who killed my mother. Training or not, I can't do it."
This creates a problem for Willow, since she feels Jeff isn't ready yet to take off on his own as far as his magical self control, but how would she really stop him? And, I have to bring up again that Jeff is a minor - the state is going to have something to say about whether he stays at the school or not? I hope they're not just going to glide over that fact after having brought it up (future me - they don't forget it the issue).
And, I think Jeff has a valid point - no matter what Bonnie knows, it's unfair to ask him to stay under the same roof as her, and not seek a bit of vengeance.
Which leads directly to Bonnie sitting in her cell in the WATCHERS basement. And, one of the stronger scenes we've seen for Andrew - perhaps the strongest since BTVS: Storyteller. He again reiterates his personal mission statement that he revealed to Tracy last season, but more, he also shows that he's really grown from the selfishly blind person he was in BTVS: S6. And, he holds up to Bonnie's sarcasm splendidly, even if he does dip into the geek-speak (still Andrew - after all... grin).
Dawn continues her integration into the WATCHERS cast by finding the answer to the Undine goals. The problem, at this early point, is going to be Skye Tallisker. She's not given much to do, other than be Dawn's girlfriend, which could quickly make her a cypher. It's something that the writers will have to watch for, if they don't have her go away to college - leaving Dawn behind in Cleveland (another future me break - they do have problems with Skye to begin with, but they change the actress and she becomes quite a character in her own right - another fave, once she discovers her... darker and more sarcastic instincts).
They also use Dawn wisely here to explore Jeff's grief at losing his mother since his situation mirrors Dawn's own (and Buffy's for that matter) so closely... devoted mother, missing father, sudden and unexpected death.
Back with Willow, who's joined the Slayers in looking for the water-spirits: there's some small jealousy when Mia takes an interest in Willow's magic and some questions that'll be interesting later regarding if Slayers can also be witches, but what this is really about is wrapping up this episode by confronting the Undines over they're flooding of certain waterfront properties (the developer is trucking in soil, building up the land on the lakefront, and ergo decreasing the amount of the Undine's "property"... it all comes down to property rights?! I have to admit, I didn't see that one coming. We also get a shout back to Lake Eerie's monster, Bessie).
The Undines' grievance isn't resolved in this episode, but we do have a non-violent resolution to the episode, which makes a nice change. Especially, following the carnage of Another Apocalypse. But's what is really important here is near the tail end of the... err... tale: We meet what strikes me as the probably main bad guy for the season - and it is still the Presidium. With the death last season of The Engineer, here we're getting acquainted with The Lover....
Our last scene revisits Jeff and his objection to Bonnie being given refuge at the Council, and Rowena Allister's return to Cleveland....
The Good: This was a pretty good tale, with a unique and different foe but its real strengths are in addressing the fallout directly from last season's finale. We deal with Lily's coma, Bonnie's being on the run, Jeff's anger, Dawn moving into the Council full time, Ro/Will's rocky possible romance, the fact that the Presidium wasn't defeated on their home turf (and ergo, can come back anytime), Mia's flirtations with Kennedy, the Giles/Becca relationship and the Presidium's overall goals - which certainly would not be sidelined over one defeat.
You may think that all of these elements would create a mess of a story, but everything is given room to breathe without any elements crashing into or destroying the other elements... I guess I'm trying to say that the pace of this one is a good point.
The Bad: Some of the art was a bit iffy - a problem, I suppose when your creating new scenes with screen captures, but none of it was horrible. I'm not a fan of the Willow/Ro 'yes or no' storyline, but that's a personal preference thing and isn't a point against the plot.
I will say however, that including Marsha's history of abuse and then not expand on it was a real missed opportunity, especially since it was replaced by more Willow moping.
Still, there was nothing seriously bad out of this one.
The Scoring: I found this to be an entertaining season opener that dealt with a lot of the issues from the end of last season, and introducing new wrinkles for this season (the Lover, Jeff's grief, Bonnie as prisoner) that should prove to be interesting and I like how Dawn is integrated far better in WATCHERS than anything that Joss has EVER done with her.