Story: Jane Espenson, Pencils: Karl Moline, Inks: Andy Owens, Colors: Michelle Madsen,
Letters: Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt
Cover: Jo Chen
"Commitment through Distance, Virtue through Sin"
Blurb: Looking forward to a life on the family farm, do-gooder soldier boy Riley Finn and his lovely wife Sam expect a life of peace, quiet, and relatively little bloodshed. But when Buffy calls, Agent Finn will consider putting it all on the line at the request of his very first love.
My Blurb: So, the very first problem I have is the nearly mocking tone taken toward Riley Finn even before the first page. Yes, he is a "do-gooder", and it's okay for us as fans to mock him a bit for it. But, the writer shouldn't be. Riley has to be taken - well, seriously may be taking it a bit too far in the other direction - but, taken as a complete character rather than the chew-toy.
Page 01: We open on Riley's parents' farmstead. He's just had a great meal and now he and wife-Sam are going to go out for a ride-around in the family truck.
Page 02: Sam and Riley walk across his parents' fields, with Sam insisting that he may say he's thinking about an offer, but they both know he's going to do it.
Page 03: In the truck on the way out to the silo, Riley and Sam discuss their immediate plans to take over the family farm and settle down. Sam says she's fully on board with this plan, but she also insists that if Buffy called him for a job, he has to go.
Commentary: I like that it is Sam Riley who is taking Buffy's side. It's very much in character for her BTVS: S6 appearance in which she was practically a Buffy fangirl, even though she only got to know her through Riley's stories at that point. Also, I like the way that this is a reverse reflection of that episode (the generally hated, "As You Were"), because there Riley asked for Buffy's help. Finally, I was impressed in 'As You Were' with Sam's seemingly being unable to be jealous of Buffy's 'ex'-status and that continues here with her character... and I loves me The Continuity.
Page 04: Having arrived at the silo, Sam reminds Riley that you sort of have to have the world safely under your feet in order to farm it and raise kids and stuff.
Riley mentions that most girls wouldn't be pushing their husbands at their ex, but Sam isn't worried about that sort of thing. She's very self-confident. As they stand over the silo, though, we see that there is much more going on than meets the eye. The Silo isn't a grain or corn silo... it's a missle launch facility (I'll assume it's one of our 'Minute Men' nuclear rockets... or whatever we're currently calling them).
Page 05: We jump to Twilight's location, and this is why I had to wait to review this one: Angel removes his mask to show us he's Twilight.
He's meeting with Whistler, who is advising Angel/Twilight on "The Plan".
Page 06: Back in the silo, the military guy in charge reports that they've been contacted because there are signs that a glitch or another computer has been in contact with the missile, bringing it online.
As they discuss the situation, Riley runs his hand over the rocket to find that it is very cold. This would be due to the cryogenic fuel being onboard, even though it isn't supposed to be. The missile should only be fueled when it has been given a go to launch. This is quite bad.
Commentary: Although, it does unfortunately point out that Sam and Riley aren't exactly high-level computer technicians and you'd think they'd be all over this thing but... no.... Hmmm.
Page 07: As Sam and Riley get to work to diagnose the issue, they discuss their present situation. Riley accuses Sam of being afraid to quit the secret, military agent life to become a homemaker. She deflects a bit, but also reports that coordinates have been set on the missile -- again something that it shouldn't have onboard until it is being prepared to nuke Russia, or China, or North Korea, or Iran or -- just to mix things up a bit, the middle of the Outback -- 'cause why should they miss out on the fun.
Page 08: Some time later, Sam and Riley have managed to access the targeting systems, but when they clear it, the coordinates are reset.
Page 09: With them being unable to stop the missile's standby mode directly, they hop on a military craft for destination unknown, though I'm hoping it isn't the coordinates where the missile is set to launch to -- as that seems a bit suicidally counter-intuitive.
While onboard the cargo plane, Sam brings the topic back around to Buffy's mission plans. Riley tells her that he'd have to go in undercover and hope Twilight didn't make him do anything he couldn't live with in the meantime. Sam is sarcastic regarding his lack of positive thinking.
We find out that Riley has already been approached by Twilight to join his crew, which makes a weird sort of sense, considering... well, no. No, it doesn't make any sense for Twilight to ask Riley aboard.
Commentary: I'm trying to justify this, but I find it confusing. I can see the scenario: Angel/Twilight asks Riley to join him in order to "stop" the Slayers and Buffy, which according to the secret plan, is actually to prepare her for her goddesshood by... uh... making her hate Twilight by killing off her friends and the Potentials.
Whatever. I'm trying to avoid rehashing that mess o' planning. Let's try to stay focused on Riley's part. Which Is...?
See, I'd get this part if Angel wanted to hurt Buffy even worse by making sure she knew that Riley turned against her. But, he's been removed from her life for all of S7 by the time we join S8 (which was somewhere between a year and 18 months between seasons) and then through at least part of S8. Why would Angel be interested in trying to hurt Buffy via Riley... why not... oh, mind-controlled Spike. Or Xander. Or intercepting Willow through some mysti-quest and trying to recruit her to bring about his/its plans? Riley? I'm not getting it.
I also considered that Angel might be wanting to hurt Riley, as one of Buffy's exes... and the one that she used to hurt him when she was in Los Angeles tracking down Faith. Remember, she'd left Angel with that "I have someone new. It's not what we had. I trust him," bit? Now, it's true they seemed to have resolved that, but I could grasp if he didn't really feel it was resolved, especially since he's in villain-role right now. But, it still doesn't make sense because Twilight-verse-hood wouldn't care... at all... about this. And it just doesn't seem to me that getting Riley's help against Buffy would have any real value to make it worth the risk of his betraying Twilight back to Buffy's hands (as indeed, Riley does). I'm not understanding WHY Riley would be involved in Twilight's plans.
Page 10: They try to suggest, through Sam, that Twilight may be recruiting Riley into the Anti-Buffy League because of his sort-of anti-magic stance. Riley worries that Twilight would have him prove his loyalty by ordering him to do something he can't, like shoot a witch in the head or something.
Sam tells him he's selling himself short of what he'd do for Buffy Summers. It's unclear if that is really a dark joke, the way Riley takes it.
Commentary: No, this doesn't explain Twilight's interest in recruiting Riley to my satisfaction. He already has a faction of powerful U.S. Military on its side, so Riley's involvement would seem moot -- especially since Riley was going to be tucked safely out of the way. I could see trying to twist his loyalty if Twilight thought that he may be joining up with Buffy's contingent to fight against them, but if Angel has been keeping an eye on Finn this whole time, then he'd know that Riley is putting himself safely on the sidelines, anyway. And... he could have simply killed him, instead of playing these games.
It's not that I dislike Riley -- in fact, I'm one of the few open Riley supporters in online fandom. But, I don't understand his value that would have him pulled into the conspiracy against Buffy.
Page 11: Sam and Riley skydive under cover of darkness to a small dingy waiting for them just off some islands in the middle of nowhere. Sam tells Riley that if it were her being asked, she'd do it.
Page 12: Tensions arise in the raft, when Riley accuses Sam of wanting him to take this mission on so that she'll have an excuse later for taking on a government job after their alleged retirement. She's not able to deny this immediately. From the beginning of the issue, it seemed clear that Sam is committed to the farming life with her husband... but maybe... only on a more part-time basis.
Page 13: Back at their secret meeting, Angel is frustrated with The Plan. He complains to Whistler that Buffy should be the main player in this drama, not a pawn. Whistler explains why this can't be so. She has to feel powerless in order to embrace her ultimate power.
Whistler asks if Riley will come onboard and Angel believes it's possible. He describes Riley as very "humans first"... which he was... when he was in the Initiative. As with all of her bos, he's since modified that opinion, but it makes sense that Angel/Twilight wouldn't know that.
Page 14: In the raft, Sam and Riley continue their argument. Sam admits that if the government called her out of retirement for a mission, she'd take it. Riley says he was right then, that she wants him to work for Buffy as future permission when she asks to go back on a government job.
She awesomely corrects him: She wouldn't ask him for permission.
But, his doing this for Buffy would make it easier for her to not ask his blessing when she inevitably does the same for her country.
This stand-off is interrupted by an incoming missile headed right for them! Sam points out that they did disable the original, but Riley reminds her that the world has a LOT of missiles... ooops.
Commentary: I know, I know. You all hated Sam, too. I didn't. And, I like the way that Jane is writing her here.
Page 15: Riley is questioning the wisdom of coming to the coordinates of a planned missile strike. A little late.
But, when the warhead opens and launches its cluster bomb load, it isn't targeting them or any of the land in the area. Instead they land in a circle around a particular island in a very obvious clue on where they should go next.
Page 16: The next discussion isn't, "This feels like a trap, still" as it would be if I were in the raft. Instead, they discuss their search plans for the islet. But Riley sees a General waiting near the beach and offers that maybe they should just ask him what is going on....
Page 17: Back with Whistler and Angel, the demon explains to the vampire that there is a huge prophecy working its will on them all. The Powers That Be are aware of this and are why they want him to follow Whistler's lead. He tells Angel that he's seen some of the possible futures where Angel runs to Buffy and spills everything. In these futures, they fight side by side against the coming Prophecy, just like Angel wants to do right now. And they lose.
He offers a choice between Angel being with Buffy, or being with the world. It sucks, but these are the choices.
Commentary: Whistler's role in this hasn't been easy to ascertain, either. I've gotten the feeling that he wants Twilight to occur, but I haven't understood why. I've also been unclear on if he's working for the Twilight Reality, or for the Powers That Be, still. And if he is still under the Powers That Be, then are they being fooled, or do they also want the Twilight Reality? And, if they want Angel/Twilight/Buffy/Twilight-Goddess to ascend, what are they getting out of it? What do they think is going to happen??
Now, it is very possible that I'm missing some details because let's face it -- I was so disgusted with the sloppy plotting and storytelling of the Twilight Arc, that my brain was pretty shorted out by the time I reached the end of it [and I still don't remember most of "Last Gleaming" to remember if there was a satisfactory explanation for Whistler and/or the Powers].
But, I just really, really don't want to go back through those issues to try to piece this all together. Maybe I'll do that as a wrap up post of S8 after I'm done reviewing these last issues. If for no other reason than as an exercise in grasping just what the hell.
Page 18: The General, I believe, is General Twilight who will end up with a bullet through his forehead in BTVS: 'The Long Way Home'. He escorts Sam and Riley into a darkened cave, where they continue their argument about Sam's passive-aggressiveness.
Commentary: Which, okay, yes... I don't like that she was trying to manipulate Riley into making things easier for herself later. Not a very nice character trait, and I gotta be on Riley's side on this one.
Page 19: Sam admits to Riley in the dark that she is just trying to push Riley into getting to the end of his self-flagellation because he wants to help Buffy. Of course he does.
But, he's worrying about her feelings and he shouldn't be because she is completely fine with his running to Buffy's summons when she needs him for something important.
Riley changes the discussion to their current circumstances and wonders if they've really been through the whole missile thing just to be lured out to this remote island deliberately.
Twilight-voice confirms that yes, they really were... or at least Riley really was.
Commentary: Okay, this part is plotting fail. Would Riley or Sam really be dumb enough to mention Buffy's secret mission, when that mission is specifically to spy on/betray Twilight when they're in a very dicey situation and don't know the story or their manipulator at this point. Especially since the entire way into Buffy's mission involves Twilight already having a special interest in recruiting Riley. This seems like incredibly horrible circumstances to be talking about Riley taking on a double-secret mission for Buffy when they both already know that Twilight is trying to interest Riley in a secret mission against Buffy!
What the hell kind of plotting is this?!
Page 20: The lights suddenly come up and we see Twilight and his Whole Army waiting for them.
Page 21: Despite very clearly hearing Sam and Riley's discussion, Twilight still offers Riley a place on his team against "magic taking over the world" to fight for humankind against the Slayers, and magic writ large.
Riley agrees, after assuring himself that even when he's not with Sam (who apparently is very much not invited for reasons unclear), they're together.
Commentary: Okay? Wouldn't Sam being involved in this mess just help Twilight to control Riley? Isn't he pissy about the talk of Riley doing a mission FOR Buffy? Isn't it easier to just change plans and kill Riley and Sam right here, right now?
Was Riley ever even needed to do anything in particular? It's not like he's still commanding a team of specialized anti-demon/anti-evil magic fighters or anything. I'm confused.
Page 22: With Riley having agreed, and with Twilight apparently not minding that Riley may have divided loyalties, he's marked with the Twilight arc symbol. Angel tells him he'll have to choose between 'the girl' and 'the world'... so maybe that explains why he's bothering with Riley, anyway. Maybe this part is actually Angel over Twilight, hoping that maybe Riley will be able to do what he himself isn't able to... find a way to help Buffy on the sly to stop himself?
'Cause that could be really interesting... if it had played out more clearly this way and had a real impact on the 'Twilight' story arc.
The Good: I like getting the explanation for how Riley ended up working as a double agent inside Twilight's organization.
I like the interactions between Riley and Sam. I also like the interactions between Whistler and Twilight/Angel.
The Bad: Those nagging plotting issues that remain as part of Angel being Twilight.
Other Thoughts: I don't think any of the developments here were worth a separate title. All of this... ALL OF IT... could have fitted very easily as a series of one or two page flashbacks during the "Retreat" and "Twilight" arcs. That annoys me.
The Score: I have to say I'm relatively disappointed with the non-revelation of how Riley got involved in all of this. It's very, "oh... okay, whatever".
3.0 outta 5
So, next up will be the last 5-issues of BTVS, S8 ... the "Last Gleaming" arc....