"Time of Your Life", Part IV (final chapter)
Script: Joss Whedon
Pencils: Karl Moline
Inks: Andy Owens
Colors: Michelle Madsen
Letters: Richard Starkings & Comicraft's Jimmy
Cover: Jo Chen
Blurbing: Today thousands of Slayers populate the world - forming squadrons, fighting vampires, demons, and, more recently, the U.S. military. Buffy and Xander continue to train an elite force of Slayers in the highlands of Scotland where they prepare to duel their fiercest foe to date: Twilight.
Buffy's fresh from another doomed relationship, and Xander has suffered another great loss. Now a mystical vision has directed Willow toward New York City and clues to the future of magic. And as for Dawn, well... she's still experiencing some serious growing pains.
Page 01: We open on Dark Willow. She voiceovers that she hates history.
Page 02: Not, she clarifies, the subject. Just the living through history and being a part of it part.
Buffy, unconscious, has been tied to a chair with a chain (yeah, sure - that chair will last long) and Dark Willow gazes over her:
"I'd forgotten her excellent nose."
Page 03: Standing nearby is Melaka Fray, current Slayer and the reason Buffy is knocked out. Also present is Fray's demonic-monkey 'Watcher' and her sister, Erin.
Melaka has chosen to help Dark Willow in capturing Buffy because of a vision she shared with the future Slayer. According to Dark Willow, Buffy will be extracted from Mel's timeline and then change the past, wiping out her life and her entire present. Why Dark Willow is so invested in preventing this, and how and why she is in this place and time are questions that have not been answered as of yet.
Erin Fray remains skeptical.
Commentary: Also, Dark Willow remains enamored of the Drusilla look. Also, also, no one in the future seems to change their clothes - or all of their outfits look exactly alike.
Page 04: Buffy comes to and is shocked to see Dark Willow:
"Why am I shackled, why are you evil, and why isn't anyone on my side?" she asks.
Page 05: Harth in the meantime has invaded the roof space above Mel's apartment, where the skylight roof has been smashed. He is a little put out that Dark Willow is hanging around with his Slayer and cop sisters. Further, he doesn't like what he's overheard. You see, Willow has told Fray that Buffy's coming to the future will end that future if she goes back home. She's told Harth that Buffy's coming to the future will ensure that future occurs when she returns home.
She's lying to someone.
Commentary: Actually, I wanking this a bit. She did tell Mel that Buffy can't go home or this future will not come to pass. She only told Harth that Buffy's coming will ensure that the future occurs as he is living it. These aren't mutually exclusive concepts.
Buffy can have ensured the future exists as it does in this moment by arriving in the future, just as she told Harth. At the same time, if she returns she could do things differently causing the future to be changed.
The problem with this, however, is that we know Fray's timeline exists because Buffy removes magic and banishes herself (and presumably all magic-related beings) from this plain of existence and she can't have done that if she doesn't get back to our present, first. Which is why I hate these time-travel stories... but it is about to get even more confused with the motivations....
Page 06: Now Willow acknowledges to Harth that she has been lying. But, when Melaka asks her what her end plan is, she replies 'death'. She also states that she has learned over the past two centuries that it doesn't matter who exactly dies, only who ends up killing them.
In the meantime, Monkey-demon is picking the locks around Buffy's chains unnoticed.
Page 07: Melaka takes this as being instructed by Willow to kill Buffy while she's able. Dark Willow tells her that if Buffy gets back to the rooftop around midnight, it is all over for her and her world. Mel accuses her of lying again, but Willow will only confirm she's lying to somebody and asks if she's willing to gamble her whole existence that it is to her.
Harth says that to resolve the dilemma, he'll just kill everybody and then let whatever happens after that unfold. Dark Willow calmly tells the vampire that this isn't his night and further expounds that he really needs to choose the timing of making new enemies a lot more thoughtfully.
He tells her that her magic is nearly non-existent and he has a whole army, but she's not the one who plans on defeating him.
Commentary: Okay, my reading of this is that Dark Willow wasn't actually talking about Fray killing Buffy, and she obviously isn't planning on doing it herself. I believe that Dark Willow's plan is to push Buffy into killing her, instead, by threatening Buffy's life - not actually allowing the follow through. But, I'm not sure how much of Willow's reveal to Mel is real and what is a lie.
It's possible that she does want to stop Buffy from reaching the portal back so that the past will be altered, and thereby changing her own fate. But, barring that, I think that Willow here is weary with life and wants to die. If I'm not misunderstanding, I think telling Mel to kill Buffy to save herself is the ruse. What she really wants is for Buffy to feel threatened enough to stop herself - i.e. Buffy kills Dark Willow ... or Mel stops Buffy from reaching the portal home and thereby changing Dark Willow's fate. Either way, the existence that Willow has come by will be terminated, which is ultimately her plan... if I understand this... this story is really about deception, as Dark Willow herself is revealing and that makes everything very unclear for the reader.
It also maddingly doesn't explain what exactly happened to bring Dark Willow to this place, why she exists at all here, or why she needs Buffy to be the one to slay her, rather than say, Melaka or even Harth. I'm having a hard time getting my head around this arc.
Page 08: Dark Willow wasn't threatening Harth, she was just pointing out a fact. You see, he attempted to kill Gunther. His vampire minions failed. As Gunther points out when he arrives in a heavily armed airship with a water-filled cockpit and starts blasting the vampires on Fray's rooftop.
As the chaos erupts, Buffy yells to Erin to listen to her...
Page 09: And then leaps from the chair, now free of the chains, and socks her unconscious. Buffy then tells Fray that she's leaving, pulling Erin's zap gun on her and returning the favor Mel gave her by shooting her.
In the background, Dark Willow mutters to her that she's not ready to leave quite yet - she isn't done here, but Buffy has already smashed her way out of the apartment.
Page 10: Back in the present, Dawn and Xander have convinced the woodland creatures to resist the magic-green-flame-demons. They share banter about Dawn wanting the tree root guy, while she returns that she hopes he dies first with the most wounds.
Commentary: The Woodlands are ill-defined, by the way. I get the giant rabbit and I get the tree-roots for legs/feet guy and I get what looks like insect people and a dwarf with snakes on chained collars and some large green guy with antlers. What I don't get is the giant chicken-humanoid or some of the random guys in the background.
Page 11: Xander beheads one of the green flame guys, and finds that his neck stump reforms re-attaching the head before it can fly away from the body. He tells Dawn that running away seems like a better plan. But, then a power bolt of some sort comes in from off screen and it cancels out the green flame guys powers. It looks like they were really just mortal creatures covered by some strong magical field and not made of mystic green fire, after all.
Commentary: And check out Dawn's sword - I don't know where she got it (from one of the Woodlands, presumably) but it is HUGE. I have no real point to make about it, I just found it ridiculously large.
Page 12: The Power Bolt of Save came from the HQ surviving Wiccan contingent... and they're accompanied by the surviving Slayers. With the green flame cancel magic worked, the odds are far more in favor of our good guys and their new allies. Rowena is leading the charge, and we can see in the background that our other sorta-regular, named Slayer - the red-maned Leah, has also survived Warren's assault.
Page 13: Back in the future, Buffy has taken off - hitched a ride on the undercarriage of a flying car and is making it back to the position of where she came out of the portal for her attempted return trip to the present.
Page 14: When she makes it to the building in question though, she finds the revived Fray waiting for her. Melaka warns her she can't let her go back, she can't take the risk of Buffy's returning wiping away her world.
Page 15: Melaka attacks. Dark Willow watches.
Page 16: Buffy realizes that Melaka is both stronger than her and more sure of what she's fighting for. But, she also realizes that she doesn't have the collected experience of the Slayers before her that Buffy does.
She uses the Scythe to slice open one of those water towers you see in cities sitting atop tenement roofs.
Page 17: As Mel is washed over the roof edge, we switch to her thoughts. She realizes she's fighting her sense of awe of Buffy's presence, and that is causing her to hold back on the hittage, right when she needs to be at her coldest and hardest. She scrambles back to the rooftop.
Page 18: Buffy uses part of the collapses water tower to slam Mel in the face, but Melaka is able to respond with a flying kick that smashes Buffy in the face. She also points out to herself that Buffy's wearing an unpractical frock, which I've already commented on, myself, in a prior issue review.
Page 19: Back in the present, Warren is watching his troops losing. He and Amy argue over whether the fault lies with the initial blast not killing everyone as he claimed, or her magic soldier-protecting fields that have been disrupted.
Twilight looks on them with amusement, while conferring with a new arrival with the twilight symbol on his chest. His identity is hidden, but he's a muscular tall man. We also find out through dialog that this man is who she met in New York prior to her time travel. He reports to Twilight that she's so stuck in the past that he'll easily be an inside man in her organization.
Page 20: And, that mysterious newcomer is... Riley Finn!
Meanwhile, in New York, Willow has blindfolded herself and is getting ready to reach across the time portal to grab Buffy from the future without looking beyond the barrier as instructed by Saga Vasuki.
In that future, Buffy sees the portal opening and turns her back on Fray at the wrong time, as the future Slayer makes a mad leap at her with her Scythe directed to axe her in the back.
Page 21: But, Buffy has sensed her moves without looking. She swings a fist back, not only blocking the Scythe blow, but smashing Fray's Slayer Scythe. Buffy follows up by punching Mel out.
Alas, Dark Willow has chosen now to intervene by standing between Buffy and the portal home. Willow warns Buffy that she'll have to get through her or fail. Buffy has seen through her though. She specifically says:
"You dragged me here and then told me exactly how to get out. Everything, every lie, to get us here. Why? What happened? Why does it have to be me?"
Willow sadly tells her it's a long story.
Commentary: I get the strong sense here that Buffy's "why me" is specifically asking "Why do I have to be the one to strike you down?"
Page 22: Buffy doesn't have the time for long stories, though. She stabs Dark Willow with her Slayer Scythe, killing her in a display of released magic.
Page 23: Fray makes one final leap to grab Buffy away from the time portal, but Willow has reached through it and grabs her, yanking her back to the present.
Page 24: In the present, Buffy is crying heavily when she grabs Willow in a hug and tells her she loves her.
Kennedy warns them both that she's watching their hands.
Commentary: And, honestly, I am completely lost unless the whole complicated ruse of Willow's was, in fact, to die. I can guess that she wanted it to be Buffy out of her sense of deep love for the Slayer. She didn't want to die at the hands of someone she didn't know, but wanted Buffy to be the one to end her evil existence. But, the whole thing seems really - uh, I don't want to use complicated again - but Machiavellian in a way that leaves me confused and lost on what the arc was about. So, I am turning to Stormwreath to see if he got more out of this than I...
... And, back from linkage (see after The Score) - First, I'll say that I disagree that Dark Willow conversed with Buffy or that Buffy heard her comment that she's "not quite done"... I refer to Willow muttering to herself, while Storm believes that DW was telepathically speaking to Buffy. I'm not sure it matters, except that with Dark Willow being so manipulative, I don't see her actually telling anything to Buffy, but rather trying to move everyone around as chess pieces, instead. He does agree with my conclusion that Dark Willow's plan was to seek her own death - probably after the last two centuries has led her into a deeper and deeper sense of loneliness and isolation.
Here is his thoughts on what this all means:
In 'Anywhere But Here', Buffy and Willow learned that Twilight's plan is to end all magic and all demons... which would also put an end to Willow's power. She didn't look particularly happy at that idea, but their demonic informant implied that it was Buffy's life goal. That immediately sets up a possible conflict between the two of them.
My speculation is that Buffy will eventually decide to let Twilight win. She comes to agree with his aims, that ending the supernatural will be a good thing for the world. Willow disagrees, and they end up on opposite sides in the war. Willow's side loses, and the Buffy-Twilight Alliance wins.
When the magic ends, Willow somehow manages to survive and retain some of her power. She has a long-term plan to reverse everything, to change the past so it never happened that way.
So, she engineers things to bring Buffy to the future. She confronts Buffy with just how horrible the world will be after two centuries with no Slayer, if the supernatural does return eventually anyway. (And maybe it was Willow that did that, too? The original 'Fray' comic never said how the demons managed to return.) She sets Buffy and Melaka to fighting, to emphasise the lesson.
And finally, she ensures that Buffy will have to live with the memory of killing Willow with her own two hands.
What will Buffy be like when she returns to the 21st century? We've already seen part of it; she's clinging to Willow, tearfully babbling about how much she loves her. This Buffy will definitely think twice now before she lets herself get estranged from Willow in the future. And she's seen how bad a future without magic and Slayers would be... so she'll definitely not be inclined to listen to Twilight's plan to banish all the demons.
Buffy will now fight Twilight to her last breath alongside Willow, rather than going over to his point of view and opposing her former-best-friend. The world will stay supernatural, Fray is now an alternate universe, and Future!Willow has successfully changed history and, by her death, deleted her entire timeline from existence.
Okay. Sure, why not? It actually hangs together nicely and ties into Twilight and his goals. I remain unconvinced this is anything but fanwank, but at least it is sensible fanwank and gives a greater arc purpose to the "Let's have Buffy meet Melaka!" idea.
Page 25: In Fray-time, we see that Melaka and Erin didn't vanish, although there is also some indication that something has changed... in the artwork, it looks like there was a sweeping wall of magic, with the way the white space and that first panel of Mel staring down at the dead Willow was drawn. Mel asks Erin what she thinks it all means, but there simply isn't any answer.
The Good: I liked the sense of melancholy and sadness in Dark Willow. She definitely wasn't evil in the usual comic-book sense of the word, despite the Dru-dress and veininess.
I also liked her manipulativeness and basically making everyone from Melaka to Harth her tools.
I liked how this time out Buffy didn't hesitate to kill Willow's dark counterpart. She has changed since S6... whether that change is really positive isn't the point, I like the fact that we're seeing that Buffy has grown since the TV series and her ascension as First Slayer Among an Army.
The Bad: I don't like ending stories with no clear sense of what it was all about... time travel and dimension threatening just so Willow could make sure Buffy killed her? I don't like that I'm left as lost as Mel and Erin at the end. I like ambiguity, but I'd like a stronger sense of why this happened and Willow's going through all of this just for her own death feels like just too much for me to accept without some sort of greater lesson - which is why I like Stormwreath's hypothesis that this was Willow's greater attempt to stop Buffy from banishing magic alongside Twilight. But for this ending to work for me, Melaka's timeline would have to end - the fact that she goes on existing with full knowledge of what just happened, irregardless of how the past might have changed because of Dark Willow's actions feels like a cheat... Joss "having his cake and eating it too", which bugs me in a "you don't get to have it both ways" sort of way, if that made sense.
Other Thoughts: While having questions remain is great storytelling, I'm having a hard time with how much is left up in the air for us to figure out on our own. This is Joss' universe, and even if he doesn't give us all of the answers so we can speculate and fanwank, it'd be nice if there was a firmer grasp of what he may have meant - what his viewpoint might have been on what we've just been shown. I don't have that sense here that there was more to it than "this would be cool" specifically because of the "not making a choice and having consequences" of the final page. I would much rather we not gotten that page, so that we could determine for ourselves what happened to Mel's timeline, or for Melaka and Erin to have no memory of the events, and thereby giving us a more ambiguous and open ended question of what might have happened in Fray's timeline. As it is, it appears nothing happened (without fanwanking it).
The Score: While I like all of the elements being put into this tale, I don't think I really liked the story progression using those elements. I know I don't like the inclusion of Melaka and Erin on the rooftop at the end with seemingly no change, after the huge battle over whether Buffy would or wouldn't return to the past where she could change things. That part would have been so much more powerful if it had been left unseen and ambiguous for us to debate and think on. I like all of the characters and the dialog and everything, and yet, I'm just too confused in the end to really enjoy it (much like Twilight's arc, actually - only not as deeply felt). I want to give it a higher score, and maybe for those who don't need anything explained you'll get more out of it than I, but I can only give this...
2.75 out of 5
When you've finished this review - JUMP HERE and read Stephen's take on it.